Bookends

By JIM NICHOLS

Let us suppose that adolescence and later adult life represent bookends of our human existence in terms of time. Granted, younger children come before adolescents, but it is in the latter that certain questions begin to arise. It is significant for my argument here that the questions adolescents ask are remarkably like the questions later adults ask. The answers/responses to the questions may differ slightly in their detail, but I propose that God’s response in general is the same to each.

The point is that there is a parallel between the significant complexities of being an adolescent and those of being, for example, a near- or actual retiree. This might be summarized by the question, “Who am I?”

During my teaching career I received lots of students in my office asking such questions as, “How do I get along with my roommate?” or, “What’s up with girls? (or boys?)” However, the number one perplexity voiced was “Am I in the right major and will it lead me to the career I desire?” Students were looking to their immediate and distant future and, with angst, trying to understand if their goals were reasonable with regards to their capabilities. The water was muddied often by parental expectations (“My folks have always wanted me to go to medical school, but I had a journalism class I really liked”) or just a general feeling of indecisiveness. Successful university students are often successful in multiple areas and they are realizing that, to choose one area they love is to choose against all the other areas they love. Until now, they had been able to do whatever they wanted, but now the options limit each other. 

If the student is also growing spiritually, that adds another serious dimension. Now the questions broaden to such as “Where is God leading me in this time of life?” We promote that young Christians should seek their “calling” from God, but that is a heavy lift for an adolescent. Perhaps we have overplayed the concept of “career calling.”

Note that those on the other bookend, closer to the end of physical life, are asking similar questions. “Where is God leading me in this time of life” sounds familiar. “What is God doing in my life now?” “What does God expect of me and to what tasks am I now being assigned?” Older adults have accumulated certain achievements and honed their attitudes and capabilities by life’s successes and failures. However, those are elements of the past. Now the question is more, “I know who I have been, but who am I now?”

Perhaps both bookends are thinking inappropriately about employment and careers. The term “vocation” is built on the letter sequence voca, which deals with calling. Vocation is a serious word that describes a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. If we add God into the equation, the importance of vocation becomes even more dramatic. However, how might adolescents and older adults be called? And to what?

Paul was a tentmaker. Scripture never says that he was called to be a tentmaker. He was called to discipleship, not employment. I suspect he made tents correctly and legitimately, but that was not the driving force for his life. What if we altered our advice to the bookends (adolescents and later adults and, frankly, every age in between) that their employment was not really the primary concern. They (we) are indeed being called, but called out of darkness into light, into fellowship with Christ, into a right relationship with God, into eternal life that begins even during our human, physical existence. The manifestations of our call may be different and unexpected, but they can each be approved and sanctified by God. Should adolescents and older adults make wise choices for the use of their time, abilities, and resources? Of course. But perhaps the specific choices are not all that important; what is important is whether the choices are consistent with our call as disciples. Rather than asking, “What do I want to do?” perhaps it would be better to ask, “What is God calling me to in this time and place?”

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”  

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain

One comment

  • Jim, I really appreciated your thoughts on this topic. Being the second bookend, I often find myself asking the questions you mentioned. Maybe just being here for my family is the vocation for now.

    Like

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