The Wrong Question

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“Mum, look! Boulders!”

I chuckled to myself as both kids ignored the playground structure slick and glistening in the August sun, and instead darted for a series of rock formations. As their laughter intermingled with the rush of wind through the treetops, I reveled in how few bells, beeps, and whistles kids really need. Forget apps, gadgets, and toys that jump and screech. God gave kids rocks, and dirt, and wonder as fathomless as the ocean deep.

Pip clambered atop a tiered hulk of rock while Bean looked on. His fingers searched each crevice for just the right handhold, the same way he’d seen rock climbers caress a face of granite during one of our recent hikes. After he’d scaled halfway up, he said over his shoulder, “Mum, can you please get me down now? I don’t have ropes and carabiners, so I don’t think it’s safe to go higher.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. Here was a child who relished removing screens from windows two-stories up, yet in a sudden burst of maturity, among rocks and pine needles he showed restraint.

As I clutched his waist and hauled him down, a Cooper’s hawk split the quiet with its nasal cry, prompting both kids to search the the treeline.  We stood silently for a moment, our heads tipped toward the sun, scanning the ragged fringe between leaf and sky.

“Mum, thanks for coming here today,” Pip suddenly said. “I love the boulders!”

“You really seem to like climbing them,” I said.

“I love it!”

Then, I said it. The words tumbled out before I could stop them.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I winced. Pip shouted, “A rock climber!” Then, with renewed interest in the playground, he dashed off to the slides. He wouldn’t even remember the fleeting conversation. . . yet still, my own words bothered me.

What’s the big deal? Isn’t the “what do you want to be” question the most ubiquitous of childhood? Don’t kids like to dream about what they can do?

It is. And they do. But in a world that prizes ambition and accomplishment, it’s the wrong question to ask. The issue isn’t in the dreaming, but in the word choice. It teaches that what you choose as a profession, is who you are.  It ties up our worth not in Christ, not in whom we seek to be daily as we die to self, but in the labels we apply to ourselves.

My own schism in life has forced this issue to the forefront. For years, my profession defined me. It governed my schedule, my thoughts, the content of my worries and aspirations, my friends. I knew no existence apart from the scrubs, the stethoscope, the blare of alarms.  My identity in medicine was my amulet, an idol I greedily cherished.

Now that shroud has been ripped from me. The artifice and false scaffolding of my identity has crumbled away. What remains? In what do we find worth? What defines us?

As we chase after degrees, initials, and worldly accolades — the transient stuff that dazzles us with sheen and pomp, then leaves us bereft when it vanishes into vapor — the apostle Peter offers us this:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.— 1 Peter 2:9

Our worth springs not from the titles we acquire, but from the Lord we serve. The question resides not in the “what,” but in the “who.” Whom do we serve? Whom do we follow? Who renewed us through His sacrifice? Who gives us life?

Our worth in Christ transcends all professions. It envelopes us in a grace that no earthly power can penetrate or deconstruct. (Rom 8:38-39)  God grants us unique gifts so we might steward His creation; any glory in our accomplishments flows from and belongs to the Lord, not to ourselves. (Rom 12:6-8)

The question then, is not what we want to be. It is whom we choose to serve. Whether we rock climb, or remove gallbladders, or teach, or argue court cases, or clean, or repair cars, or wipe tears from a toddler’s eyes, let us pursue such work with gladness brightening our hearts, inspiration awakening our minds, and a love for the Lord infusing our every thought.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Col 3:17)

 

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