As a counselor and advisor, I hear a lot of questions throughout my workday. Some questions are easy- How many ministry hours do I need to graduate? Some are a bit more complicated- Can I double major in Psychology and Worship Arts, and minor in Biology? A few questions stand out among the rest because they seem to be questions shared by us all. These are the questions that go beyond information seeking and begin to touch the edges of our deepest longings.
One such question that stands out is the anxiety-provoking, “What should I do with my life?” Students ask me this question or some version of it almost every day. Nearly everyone asks this question at some point or another in their life. It definitely filters through my own mind now and then. It’s usually followed by sweaty palms and hand wringing. And here’s the thing- it’s the wrong question.
Sometimes our role in the Life Directions Center isn’t to give you answers, but to help you ask better questions. Because the quality of your questions determines in small part the quality of the answers you arrive at.
What should I do with my life? is the wrong question because underneath it is a scolding task-master who is more interested in what you produce than who you are becoming. This is why the question provokes fear and anxiety. The question assumes you must do something important and meaningful and productive. Don’t waste your life, or else…
Please don’t misunderstand me. You will do something meaningful and useful, but you won’t arrive there if you continue to beat yourself up with this question. Sometimes we ask the right question, but we ask it in the wrong order. There’s a question we need to ask before we ask ourselves What should I do with my life?
Imagine with me for a moment what it would be like if Jesus was your LDC advisor. You’ve set up an appointment with him and you’ve arrived 15 minutes early because he’s Jesus and you don’t want to be late (first impressions are everything, right?). You’re making nervous chatter with other students in the lobby as you wait your turn to talk to Jesus the LDC advisor. You’ve been thinking about changing your major and you are anxious about what this might mean for your future and for your graduation plans.
Finally, Jesus asks you to follow him into his office. The walk back to his office seems like an endless march down a corridor of doom. What is he going to say?
You sit down, choosing a chair farthest away from him, for reasons you don’t even understand. He shuts the door behind him, which worries you. After exchanging a few pleasantries, the real reason for your meeting emerges.
Jesus looks kindly into your eyes, and asks you a question. You’re surprised by his question but it causes you to exhale in relief and you realize you are safe. What is the question he asks you? Whatever it is, I’m convinced it’s not What are you doing with your life? It’s something else.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus looked beyond a person’s function and status in society. Jesus upended conventional wisdom that said a person was as valuable as the role they played in the community. Jesus cares about what you do, but only in the context of who you are.
If Jesus was my LDC advisor, I hope he would ask questions that helped me arrive at answers about who I am and who he is. Maybe he would ask questions like these- Who do you turn to when you experience a setback? How do you celebrate victories? How do you like to arrange your days? When do you feel most yourself? Who do you say I am?
We can approach What should I do with my life? only after we’ve bravely asked Who am I? And here’s the thing, we are all of us still figuring out who we are. And we are tempted to rush through the process because it’s not an easy task. It’s much more comfortable to think about our function: I am a doctor. I am a pastor. I am a therapist. I am an accountant. I am a teacher. I am a missionary. I am an LDC advisor.
If we fail to explore the question Who am I? then we arrive at unsatisfying answers about what to do with our lives.
It’s been said that wise people help us live our questions rather than give easy answers. I like this because Who am I? And who is God? are questions that touch our deepest longings to know ourselves in the presence of God. And, friends, there are no easy answers when we step upon the mysterious terrain of where we meet God.
Remember Moses and the burning bush? After removing his sandals, Moses asked God, “What’s your name? Who are you?” Then, Moses heard God’s enigmatic answer from the flame: I am who I am. God’s answer, of course, leads to more questions. These questions demand personal reflection and personal response- nobody can answer these questions on our behalf.
So…if Jesus was your LDC advisor what question would he encourage you to live into? And how does that question lead you into deeper communion with yourself, God, and others?