This post was first published on Momentum, the official blog of YALT (Young Adult Leadership Taskforce).
Tons of people just graduated and are now being asked the question “What are you going to do?” a nauseating number of times. This question’s particularly stressful because most of them don’t know what they want to do, what they’re going to do, or what they’ll even be able to find to do. And, not to mention, that “What do you do?” is a horrible question for a huge section of the population–what if you ask the question of someone who cannot work, cannot find work, or cannot hold a job for many reasons? This question reveals our society’s need to define us by what we have accomplished and many of our fears about being valuable only if we’re independent.
Recently, I’ve been to quite a few funerals. Constantly I’m struck by what people remember about those who’ve passed on. While there’s occasionally achievements or jobs are mentioned, more often than not it’s who the person was that is highlighted through stories.
I find this so, so striking.
It makes me wonder why we so rarely ask “Who do you want to be remembered as?” or, put another way, “Who do you want to become?”
I mean, I know this question isn’t a conversation starter; you can’t bust it out at your next party and keep conversation going that easily. The question hits too close to the heart for that. It is 100% easier to ask “what do you do?”
But. Yet. Still. Why is it that we rarely ask the question “Who do you want to become, and how are you going to get there?” For it’s a beautiful question that gets at the fact that we’re human beings, not simply human doings.
To use an overworked metaphor, our lives are a journey. A journey where we are constantly becoming. We are becoming either more who we were meant to be or less.
For instance: We are either becoming people who are defined by kindness, faithfulness, compassion, self-control, love, patience, joy, hope, peace, goodness, or people who are defined by the opposite of those things. We are becoming people who seek justice or people who create systems of injustice by our quietness around issues. We are becoming people who are open, loving, welcoming, allowing others to write on our hearts, or we’re becoming more closed. We are either becoming people who move toward healing as much as possible or people who are content to stagnate in our wounds.
Or, to put it in Christian terminology, we are becoming more like Christ or less like Christ.
We are becoming. Always.
It might be one step forward, three steps back. But we are on a journey with the purpose of becoming people defined by Christ. People aligned by Christ. People animated by the Spirit.
However, becoming can be hard. Yes, the Holy Spirit works in us and empowers us. But, as someone said to me once, the Holy Spirit isn’t a magician. Instead, we must partner with the Spirit and partnership takes effort and intentionality.
Becoming someone characterized by certain virtues takes time, effort, and planning. It requires us to think about who we want to become and how we will achieve that. We don’t become a runner or famous pianist simply by dreaming about it, but by running and practicing every day. The same is true of becoming who we want to become. We must faithfully, daily, practice habits that move us in the direction of the person we want to become.
Sometimes it takes a long time to see the person we want to become emerge. It’s like those who hike the whole Appalachian trail—it’s only after faithfully practicing walking, faithfully putting one foot in front of the other for about 3500 kilometers. If they had tracked their changes every day, the change would be harder to see, but after getting off the trail they are noticeably more physically fit, and perhaps more emotionally and mentally resilient. Like this, though change may be slow and incremental, we still need to practice those habits which help us become more into the good person we are created to be.
Ultimately, we have to practice the virtues we want to be defined by. We need to be faithful in practicing them over the long haul of our lives.
We don’t think about the long haul of our lives very often when we’re young adults, it seems. We look at the moment in front of us and try to figure out how we’re going to pass our exams or get to work or find the friends we don’t have yet or decide what we’re going to cook for dinner. But it’s essential for us to start thinking about the long haul. It’s essential because our lives and journeys don’t begin once we graduate, once we find that next job, once we get married or have kids, once we become financially stable. Our journey has already begun. And we’re moving and journeying toward becoming something already. The question is: are you on the path you want to be on? Are you becoming the good person you want to be? Are you becoming the person God desires you to be?
We need to start asking these questions now because you are becoming something already and like an investment, you need to start investing early. We are invited to begin establishing practices and habits now already.
For instance: We need models and mentors who can help us see what it looks like further down the road, who can encourage and support us in our journey. We must dream, let our imaginations run wild, be told stories about becoming something if we want to know another way of living is possible. We need to be pushed out of our comfort zones, experience differences and change. This is one of the many reasons the church exists, why it has immense and immeasurable value: to paint a picture of what becoming like Christ looks like and then make it possible through the support of others, pushing us out of our comfort zones, being aware of God’s interaction in our lives, habits, and storytelling.
The question of who we want to become gives us a vision for life that allows us to be someone outside of our professions, our milestones, and our ability to achieve. It allows us to take notice of and celebrate the “ordinary” people in the world who model faithful living, who embody the traits and characteristics that we desire in our lives. It helps us move from the rubric of “not measuring up” to “constantly becoming.” It’s a question that not only individuals can answer, but communities and churches too.
So who do you want to become? How are you going to move in that direction?
Or, as funerals are teaching me to ask: How do you want to be remembered? How will you become that person?