Of my three boys, not one shares even remotely the same personality. Raised in the same home, with the same parents, in relatively the same environment, and yet not one is even close to similar.
The notion that they came into the world as tabula rasa, the Latin phrase meaning “blank slate,” is utterly ridiculous when you consider how different they are and how, no matter what you do as a parent, their own unique identity remains. As Wordsworth put it, “trailing clouds of glory do we come, from God who is our home.”
They can be sculpted, directed, reborn, guided and grow in staggering ways, but even in regeneration, the divine imprint of their uniquely crafted soul remains.
This is because we come into the world, not as a neutral mass of cells representing an infinite number of possibilities and choices yet to be realized and manipulated by human designs, but as vessels crafted by the Maker, fashioned with the absolute foreknowledge of every good deed in which we would be deployed. We were each created for specific purposes and callings, with specific work to do.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Just as we did not make ourselves, we likewise did not choose which talents, gifts or skills we would be granted (1 Corinthians 12:6). The great lie we’re told from kindergarten to college is that we can be whatever we want. We can do whatever we want. Our choices, vocationally and otherwise, are unlimited.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the dilemma of unlimited choice as debilitating and paralyzing, not freeing. The question everyone asks you in college, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” is more likely to produce sweaty palms and pounding temples than euphoric visions of the future.
If I can literally do anything, it becomes an impossible task trying to whittle down every available path to find the one that’s right for me. Which is why, in that paralysis, we float from job to job, relationship to relationship, listening to all the wrong advice, not ever sure what we’re really doing or where we’re going. As a result, purposeless drifting has become the perfected and accepted art form of the millennial generation.
Imagine if every question on a multiple-choice test you took in high school had 1,000 options rather than four. Would that be freeing, or devastating?
As a manager at my job, I have to make dozens of crucial decisions each day. Weighing strategy and potential outcome for each one of them, looking at calendars, then deciding. Which is why when my wife asks me which meals I want for dinner next week I practically meltdown in panic. I simply cannot be faced with another decision.
It’s the same thing when we think about vocation and calling. Having fewer choices is actually a huge relief. Once we realize that unlimited choice is a myth, it becomes easier to chart a course of action and live with clear purpose.
“WE think choice makes us happy, but there comes a point (and most of us are well past it) where we would actually be better off with fewer choices.” (“Just do something,” Kevin Deyoung)
There is a better way, a path of freedom and purpose. It comes with a simple realization: We cannot be anything we want to be. Our choices are not unlimited.
“We’re not born with unlimited choices. We can’t be anything we want to be. We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become…our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it” (“The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield).
Find out who you are and become it.
Rather than starting with an infinite number of possibilities, we start with who we are. What we’re good at. What we love doing. Our talents, skills and abilities. We listen to what our friends and family say, and how the Divine shows up when we work. Discovering and remembering who we are from birth, a light begins to shine on our path. We find direction and purpose. We’re more aware not only of who we are, but who we’re not.
The struggle of youth is forgetting who you are. Money, fame, prominence in your career, all pull us away from the territory of thriving in who we’re made to be. You know you’re a painter, for instance, but you go into accounting and drop the painting because your father convinced you that it was more responsible or financially lucrative. Or you were enamored with the paycheck and the lifestyle, but didn’t account for what an 80-hour work week in a cubicle with a fake plant as your only companion would do to your soul.
“I was young so I forgot, which was my place and which was not” (“Back to You,” Twin Forks).
The blessing of age and experience is being aware of your place. It becomes much easier to turn down good things that unmistakably aren’t you. They don’t fit, and you know it. You’ve been down that path, and it sucks. No salary can make up for hating your work.
You were made for a purpose. For certain work. Find out who you are and become it.
One tip from a fellow sailor upon these high seas: You can’t know who you are apart from knowing who God is. It is only when we stand in God’s light that we see ourselves most truly (Psalm 36:9).
Calvin’s Institutes begin with these very words: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” You can’t have one without the other. Without the anchor of Scripture, we become a boat lost forever at sea.
Finally, as a parent, educator, pastor or employer, our goal in life isn’t to force people into a generic mold that’s easy for us to control and fits our own petty agenda, but to help them discover who they are—what their strengths are—and to live those things out in service to others. All of this, of course, must happen within the boundaries of God’s design and obedience to his Word, but within those boundaries there is great diversity.
Like what you’ve read? Subscribe to get an update when a new post goes live.