Friday, March 18, 2016

No you really can’t be whatever you want, nor should you try: Intentional versus whimsical

We are a people who demand choices. And then are promptly stifled when confronted with more than a few.

Even at Baskin Robbins, where they  used to proclaim “31 flavors” and have since produced more than a thousand flavor variations of ice cream, the number one choice is still vanilla.

Endless choice is not always a good or truly desired thing.

It’s like telling a child they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

Writer Austin Kleon rightly assesses that “Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying”

I guess parents intuitively know this when their child starts saying she wants to be a fireman or a policeman, then redirecting her to “better” choices. In essence narrowing them yet still insisting to the child, “You can be whatever you want to be. Just not that.”

Or maybe there are darker motives at work. Who knows?

Little engines have tracks

But still, we insist that even as adults we can be whatever we want to be! To claim otherwise is to be stifling say some.

Like when Christians claim that everyone is created by God with a purpose. That the way to succeed in life is to determine God’s will for who we are to become in Him. That God made you to be something special.

“Hogwash!” agnostics and atheists and even some “believers” will shout. “We’re not limited by some mythical or arbitrary God!”

Yet these un-delimiters, like directive parents, will promptly advise turning to personality inventories, aptitude tests, and talent assessments to help determine your best fit now when it comes to a major, a mate, a job.

But, of course, you’re still free to be whatever you wish!

Even Christians get carried away, waving the banner of Philippians 4:13 in the faces of perceived skeptics and naysayers telling them they probably shouldn’t pursue a proclaimed endeavor.

“But!” they object, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do! My God says I can do anything!”

Big trucks versus low bridges

However, what Paul meant by “all things” does not mean “anything.” Nope.

Putting the verse back into its context makes it clear he was explaining that he was, with God’s strength, able to endure the hardships and challenges he encountered while doing the specific thing God had called him to do.

The reality is that we can’t be anything we want. And we can’t do everything we want. Nor should we frustrate ourselves trying.

A plethora of influences will play into the choices of a career or a mate available to us. Geography, family, education, physical make-up, and so much more all play a part. And that’s okay.

When we try to go down a path that’s really not suitable to us, things don’t go well.

There’s a low bridge eventually.

Willing nilly on a whim

Someone posted the photo above on Twitter a few weeks ago. I copied it and posted it on Facebook. Both with and without the added scripture.

Without the scripture, the photo garnered several “Likes.” With it, it was ignored.

I’m sure it left more than a few wondering what the heck I was getting at! “Oh, there goes that Stephen again!” is probably a thought that passed through their momentarily distracted minds.

Well, what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t tell our kids (or ourselves) they can be or do whatever they want to be when they grow up. Rather, we should pay attention to their personalities, their interests, their dreams and help shepherd them toward realistic and very suitable choices when it comes to vocation and careers.

And, of course, we should be shepherding them within the context of biblical knowledge while discipling them and nurturing their relationship with God.

For us who are adults, we need to kill the idea that whatever we want to do we can do.

Unless we are very certain that what we want to do is what God has shaped us for and called us to do. Then, yes we can! Of course we can do that specific thing that God is calling us to do.

But the idea that we can run around helter-skelter, changing careers, shifting ministry focus, and adjusting our identities willy-nilly is not even close to what God intends for us.

We are not to live our lives whimsically, but rather, intentionally. Otherwise we’re implying that either God didn’t get it right when He shaped us, or He’s changing His mind like a wave tossed on the sea.

Narrowing away from the broad road

Matthew reports Jesus saying, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, HCSB).

The primary meaning here relates to salvation and entering the kingdom of God. But I think there’s more to it than that. This is a hint about how we are to live our lives. How we are to allow our hearts and minds to be shaped.

It is an echo of Paul in Corinthians:
  • “‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be brought under the control of anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12, HCSB).
  • “‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything builds up” (1 Corinthians 10:23, HCSB).
The bottomline is that we need to rein in our desires, allow God to reign over our focus, and discerningly set our hearts on the one thing He is directing us toward.

Keeping our options endlessly open only creates unmanageable distractions. Not to mention engendering false hope.

Paul explains, “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, ESV).

The Amplified version puts it like this: “For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us].”

Søren Kierkegaard stated, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

Life has God-ordained limits. Living within them actually enhances our capabilities to be effective. Instead of being overwhelmed by anything and distracted by everything, zero in on the one thing that’s best.

What is that one thing? As Jesus stated, “ first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

That’s probably the best place to start.

Centering our life on anything other than Christ, allowing our whims to drive our focus, believing that every choice is a good option, will only lead us down multiple rabbit trails of futility.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking inside the box. We just need make sure it’s the right box.

Do you believe it’s more important to keep your options always open or narrow your options to a few best bets? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve stated in this post? Is it a good or bad thing to always believe you can be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do? Which mindset is more biblical in your opinion? Why? What problems (wrong attitudes, bad behaviors, inappropriate desires) do you believe can result from being confronted with endless choices? Or do you believe choice is always good? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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