“You can do anything you want!” I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard those words in the context of some well-meaning adult encouraging some young person to tackle the next challenge in their lives. Everybody is on a quest (or encouraged to be on a quest) to do something…wait for it…AWESOME!
By the way…may I just mention that the overuse of the word, “awesome,” hurts my head? I know that “awesome” is giving way to “epic” (how many “awesomes” does it take to make an “epic” anyway?), but still…awesome? Seriously (which is also getting way too much play)…few things are genuinely awe-inspiring and I have not heard much recently that deserves the term…a Red Sox World Series win…maybe. Or a child coming to faith in Christ.
But meanwhile, back at the ranch…I can remember believing as I was growing up, that I would one day run for (and, of course, be) President of the United States. I didn’t….run, that is. Along the way, despite my “potential,” I never had the opportunity to impress the voters with my calling to be their leader. (I also didn’t have the half a billion dollars to pull it off, but that’s another story.)
But still it keeps happening…most high school or college or kindergarten graduation ceremonies are marked by someone in the room saying that the students can do anything they want; they can be anything they want. They can scour the stars and boldly go where no one has gone before. They can invent the next must need, over-priced electro-gadget. They can solve all the world’s ills. They can be President of the United States.
(Oh, and not for nothing, but honestly, kindergarten graduation ceremonies? What’s next? “Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to welcome you to this morning’s ceremony honoring the Hospital’s most recent “Womb Graduates.” Yes, these students successfully negotiated the rigorous “Pre-Partum” course of study, featuring our most intense coursework [“Ultrasound 101 & 102,” “Nausea Inducement 220;” topped off by “Umbilical Cord Jumping 341”] and we are proud to recognize them as recipients of the prestigious “Post-Partum Prize.” These are not ordinary scholars, ladies and gentlemen, these students have enthusiastically and successfully trod a path that few [well, everyone, really, but then announcing that wouldn’t be “awesome,” would it?] dare attempt.”)
But again, back at the ranch…is it really the case that everybody can be anything? Does everyone have the potential to hit life’s grand slams? I think not. And I think it’s a mistake to try to make people believe that. That is, I believe, faux encouragement…and an impediment to helping people see genuine potential. I think it’s more important to help people (particularly young people) see that they can find and know God’s purpose for their lives and cooperate with Him in making their way toward that. In our “Everybody Gets a Trophy” world, we delude ourselves (and our progeny…but just for a moment because they eventually catch on) by insisting that there is an unlimited path toward societal definitions of success–that everybody is equally capable of climbing the highest mountain…of dreaming the impossible dream.
By now you have likely decided that I am some curmudgeon whose mission is to dampen the spirits of anyone who comes my way. Perhaps. But I think more realistically that we, Christian parents, grandparents, leaders, and teachers, do our young charges a disservice when we direct them toward unrealistic (and unbiblical) ideas about success. We better serve them, I think, when we encourage them to find and pursue God’s purpose for their lives. Encouragement along those lines aligns with God’s intention for parents and grandparents and other influential adults in young people’s lives.
In case you’re wondering…vocationally…I have had a reasonably successful military career; I have been blessed to be a local church pastor, a Christian and secular college faculty member, a seminary adjunct professor, and a health care administrator. Things have been just fine…though along the way I have hurt people and strayed from my purpose. I have messed up and been brought back by God into His gracious presence. But I am not the President of the United States–that was Unpotential Realized. That was not God’s purpose for me; He had other things in mind. And, smack in the middle of God’s purpose, genuine potential is realized.
Philippians 4:10-13, “10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”
Paul, speaking primarily here about material needs, makes, I think, a larger point about potential: we should be content to find and know God’s purpose for our lives and rest in that. Someone will be President; someone will scour the stars; someone will be invent the world’s next must need, over-priced electro-gadget. But not everyone. And more importantly many, given the right encouragement, might find and know God’s wondrous (though perhaps not presidential) purpose for their lives.
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