Reframing the Question We Ask Every Kid

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

If you are like me, then you were asked this question a thousand times growing up. Heck, I have adopted it as a common question I ask kids! It’s a fine question. There is nothing wrong with it. But let’s think more about this question, which often becomes a central and guiding one for kids of all ages.

What does the question implore or impose someone to consider? Well, taken at face value, it seems to inquire about one’s future career aspirations. If you ask a kindergartener this question they might say things like a firefighter, a mailman, a chef, and—one of my favorite responses—the president!

Talking to the younger generation about career aspirations is a good thing. But what if there was something better? There is!

Someone’s character, not their career, better determines the quality of life they have.

So, what if the question we really should be asking is this:

Who do you want to become when you grow up?

Let’s admit it… if someone blind-sided you with this question on a random Tuesday afternoon, wouldn’t you hesitate to answer?—Perhaps, you might have a “deer in headlights” kind of moment. I don’t know if I would be more stunned by not having a satisfying answer or if I would be shocked by the maturity of the question! Yet, either way, it is the million-dollar question—which is sort of ironic since it is not the typical “career” question. I mean to say that it is a question of great worth for ourselves to consider. Halt reading this blog post from a third-person perspective and actually ask yourself: Who do I want to become?

Dallas Willard, one of the pillars of spiritual formation for Christians today, famously has said:

“The most important thing about a person is not what they do. It is who they become.”

There is enough substance to that quote to keep us occupied for a few weeks—at least. But what can we gather immediately about Willard’s point? Consider this. How much of our time, energy, and resources are devoted to building a “successful” life?

A lot. I would imagine. Maybe even all of it.

But what if the question was tweaked:

How much of our time, energy, and resources are devoted to building our Christ-like character?

Do you hear the crickets?

The reality is that the common culture does not share the same view of “success” as Jesus does. While things like amassing more money, buying finer clothes, and expanding our square-footage are in the aim of most Americans (Christian or otherwise), Jesus trained His followers to adopt a far more simple perspective. Consider how counter-cultural Paul’s words are.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NIV)

Let’s not misread Paul’s intent. Money is not bad. Many times Paul praises those who use their amassed wealth for advancing the gospel! However, the New Testament’s teaching was consistently focused on telegraphing a passion for Christ-like character to be the center of our ambition.

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. … 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:10, 12-14, NIV)

Paul’s view of success is to bring greater alignment between who we are in Christ and how we walk it out. Similarly, elsewhere, he sums up the goal of the Christian life as being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Do we see how wonderful this is?

Instead of God crafting us to do a certain career, He prioritizes constructing our character like Christ so that what we do (whatever we do!) stems from who we are.

Think about it this way. What you do for your career is ancillary, anecdotal, and beside the point in comparison to who you are becoming. Career choices are important—I don’t wish to undermine that. But our character determines how effective we are for God in our careers, whichever career we do choose.

The chances are many of us are in a line of work that deviated from our answer as to when we were kids. That’s okay! Whatever your satisfaction with your career, we can take heart that God is far more concerned with our character. After all, we need followers of Jesus—who actually embody the character of Jesus—in every field of work. What you do matters. And our careers contribute to society. And how much more so when we have Christ-like character fueling our work?

When we consider planning out our life, among considering our career and directional path, let us consider (with the highest importance) who we are becoming.

May the journey of becoming like Jesus inspire our goals and energize our agenda.

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:26)

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