If you asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have had some cutesy answer about being a TV broadcaster or a Nordstrom buyer. Though, the requirement of speaking calmly in one tone of voice would have never been possible, and based on the wardrobe in my closet, I clearly never stood a chance at either of those career options. And, as I think about it, I probably answered this often ordinary and unhelpful question while wearing some floral, hippy dress that swayed freely over some ol’ patched jeans.
My first and only book sent me to a young author’s conference in first grade. It was called Willow’s Whispers and it was bound by colored tape and aluminum foil. Classic. It included stories about unicorns and crashing planes in lily pads with frogs trying to save humans. This might tell you (and should tell me) that I should’ve stopped writing right then and there, underneath the guidance of Mrs. First Grade Teacher. But it didn’t and it hasn’t. Growing up under the wings of an activist, I remember practicing Martin Luther King speeches with passion and was moved by the idea that one’s voice proclaimed change for people. Yet, I spent years of my life hoping to something that paid a lot, hoping to be something that sounded cool, hoping to really make it. Decades later, I no longer care as much about what I will be when I grow up, nor do I care much about what you will be when you grow up. I care much more about who I will be when I grow up and so I ask that question instead: Who will you be when you grow up?
As I have journeyed through decades and hoped in things that fell through, worked for things that I lost hope in, declared a major I never used, worked random jobs and seen people put their identity in that thing they were gonna be when they grew up, I have seen something. I have seen God shaping, building, writing. And in that, He seems much more interested in who I am than what I do. God seems much more opinionated about how I treat my employer than who actually writes my paycheck. He seems much more concerned with my heart than my title. God seems to prioritize my character above my career. This is not to somehow say, God could give a rip about what you choose to do with your life. God is a personal God and cares about our lives. And God can actually use your career to do amazing things in this world! But we spend soooooo much time worrying about we will do and much less time working out who we will be.
We even ingrain this in our kids by asking them this darn question and then making all their goals aimed toward this one thing they will do. This can create great disappointment in their future and most adults can resonate with that. It also creates a shallowness. So our son becomes the fireman he always wanted to be or our daughter, the doctor or the lawyer. But have we asked him or her who they want to be? Have we asked them as much about becoming people of loyalty, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, generosity, compassion and faith?
When they grow up, they will either be who they always wanted and still feel as though something is missing. Or they will be sadly disappointed that they didn’t cut it as a pro basketball player or scientist, and then what? Then who are they? Both create a major identity crises. And many of us know this feeling all to well. Your identity, who you are made to be cannot rest in what you do. God taught me this through disappointment, failure and a nagging sense of not being enough. Who you are is not what you do. This is good news if you aren’t doing what you wanted and scary news if you are.
I might not be doing what I thought I would be doing, but I am so grateful to have landed in a place where who I am is so much more than what I do. What I do, is still whisper and yell and o.k., -shout. What I do is still write about silly things and real things and the need for rescue and my writing might only ever be covered in tinfoil. But I hold onto knowing that what I do, though, doesn’t determine who I am. Who I am can, though, determine what I do.
Who we are, is the story God is writing. Allow Him to be the Author that moves your pen. It is then that who and what you become when you grow up tell an amazing story!