“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That was a popular question when I was younger. It always came from a well-intentioned adult in their attempts to make polite conversation with the young kid they had before them. As I got older the question remained generally the same, but my responses began to mature from Orioles baseball player to things like doctor, chemist, math professor, camp director. Each big decision that I made would often prompt a new iteration of the question. The question itself began to bear more curiosity than before. Now, people truly wanted to know why I was majoring in math, or why I was at graduate school, or why I left graduate school, or why I entered Seminary. Honestly, the question isn’t a bad one. In fact, having a vision for where you want to go is vital to knowing what steps you need to take to get there. Every leadership book out there and even every business book stresses the importance of having this kind of vision. It sets the trajectory for where you want to take the organization and of the kind of leader you need to be. The other day, however, I was reading a book called Building Below the Waterline, by Gordon MacDonald, which asks a similar yet profoundly different question. Gordon asked essentially, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” This is not an occupational question like before, this one is about character. It makes you think about the kind of person you want to be, about how you will be remembered. It gets into the inner workings of your life and makes you wrestle with how you want your life to be no matter your circumstances.
Last week, I talked about labels and how these influence our behavior in a rather powerful yet often detrimental way. The answer to the question, “Who do you want to be?” has an equal ability to influence our lives and impact the decisions we make. This was reinforced for me this past weekend during the bible study following our church service. We were discussing the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob, who occupies the main narrative at the end of Genesis. It is a powerful story of perseverance and faith. I remember my former Old Testament professor once described it as the most beautiful and moving narratives he had ever read. I see his point. The man Joseph is favored by his father and one day he receives this dream where it appears that all of his brothers will eventually bow to him. Now I won’t recount the entire narrative here (I encourage you to read it in Genesis 37-50), but needless to say, Joseph encounters incredible opposition following this dream including slavery and imprisonment. Despite these circumstances and awful tribulations, Joseph remains faithful to God throughout and everywhere he goes he is given authority and responsibility because of the life he lives, because of the strength of character that dwells inside him.
I think the reason for this is because Joseph knew the answer to the question, “Who do you want to be?” He was well-versed with it and had a vision of what God wanted for him. I think in the low points of his life he clung to the dreams that he had as a young man. He took comfort in the promises of God and that his task was to be the man that God needed him to be when those dreams were realized. Here is the reality: we too have been given a dream and a vision. We are called to be imitators of Christ and as such God wants us to live a certain way. Essentially, he has given us a vision statement for our lives. It is founded in grace and truth and is meant to influence every aspect of our behavior. We are called coheirs with Christ and Beloved. This vision of being a coheir with Christ should seep into our character and form us spiritually. Once we have captured this vision, our actions need to be filtered through that lens. Gordon MacDonald actually recommends making a vision statement for your life and putting it in the front of a journal, then every day you take some time to journal about your day and how you’re working towards that vision. It’s a bit of a time commitment clearly, and yet just the thought of doing that stirs my heart. To live a focused life, a life determined to follow God is perhaps one of the keys to the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. So I ask you this, “Who do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered?” The answers to these questions are the initial steps to living a grace-filled life. Let us take them boldly and live abundantly.