In researching the theme of regret for my book, I learned that a whole lot of us carry regrets about the choices we make as we launch into adulthood. At that stage, we’re building our lives via both relationships and educational/career choices. Every time we make a decision to take a step in one direction, we close the door on a number of other options. After all, we can’t be in two (or more) places at once.
I remember being paralyzed by this notion when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Perhaps I would have been terrified anyway by the specter of making a wrong choice, but I was haunted by the possibility that I might get wrong the first of the Four Spiritual Laws: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Though I understood intellectually that these pithy Laws were talking about Jesus as the wonderful plan for my life, it was remarkably easy for me to apply that statement to my existence as a committed follower of his. Serving him meant figuring out what it was exactly that he had in mind for me to do. He had a plan. I just needed to discover it, then do it.
Suffice it to say, I never went past the …elipsis following that word. I meshed my own perfectionistic fears of getting “it” wrong (whatever that mystery “it” was) with the idea that there was a single, very specific set of plans I alone could execute for the glory of God. It was Mission Impossible, since I had no bloomin’ idea where those plans might be stashed among the young adult developmental questions of my life.
My years of mentoring twenty-somethings have convinced me that we in the church sometimes use language that confuses rather than clarifies questions of relationship and vocation for people launching into adulthood. “You were destined for greatness!” conference speakers proclaim over hungry young crowds. “God has called YOU to be a world changer!” well-meaning youth leaders exclaim to the teens in their charge. This sort of triumphalist talk seems to feed off of People magazine fame culture (“You can be a superstar for Jesus!”) more than it does with the reality of what it actually means to follow him:
Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:38, 39
Sometimes, that losing of our lives looks a lot like a very un-superstar-like existence. After Jesus delivered a man so completely possessed by demons that the guy had to live among the dead, it would have seemed patently obvious that God’s wonderful plan for the man’s life was for him to come on the road with Jesus and the rest of his disciples. He would have been such an asset to Team Messiah, and could have been a great opening act before Jesus taught around Galilee. What a story this man had to tell!
Instead, Jesus sent him back to his old home town. Scripture doesn’t even record his name. We do know he serves Jesus there, among people who knew the man back when. The wonderful plan for his life was that he continue to become a whole version of the man he was already becoming vocationally and relationally before his life got hijacked by demons.
I have one young friend who has been waiting for more than a decade to be given her assignment by God for that one Big Thing for which she’s been destined. She works in an impersonal office while dreaming of greatness. So many have spoken those words over her as if they were ironclad guarantees of spotlight and microphone. She cycles between discouragement at the wait and hopefulness that her big (spiritual) break is just around the corner. This existence is not a wonderful plan for her life. It looks to me to be a recipe for regret as she waits for a life she thinks belongs to her and misses the one she’s been given.
What do you think? Does our talk of God’s wonderful plans for our lives and world-changing create additional confusion for teens and young adults? Or do you believe that these messages counteract the messages of the culture around us? Why?