A couple of years ago, The Huffington Post’s blog “Wait But Why” created “Lucy,” an imagined embodiment of today’s emerging adult.
Lucy is what the article calls a GYPSY, short for Generation Y Protagonists and Special Yuppies.
Lucy is destined to be unhappy.
From their earliest years, GYPSYs like Lucy, born from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, have been told that they are special, that they can be whatever they want to be and that they should just “follow their passions” when choosing a career.
As many millennial observers have noted, GYPSYs struggle with a sense of entitlement.
According to the blog, “The GYPSY needs a lot more from a career than prosperity and security. Where the Baby Boomers wanted to live the American Dream, GYPSYs want to live Their Own Personal Dream.”
This is, as the HuffPo’s blogger points out, a recipe for unhappiness.
In rare situations when reality exceeds our expectations, those convinced of the inherent goodness of their own personal dreams will be happy. But when reality falls short, as is most often the case, these dreamers will be unhappy, even depressed. Reality will never match the dreams GYPSYs have been told to expect.
Christians are guilty of inculcating false expectations to their young as well. For at least a couple of generations, Christian colleges and other educational institutions, with the noble intention of communicating the biblical concept of “calling” being more than full-time ministry jobs, have taught students to look at their own giftedness as the key (sometimes the only key) to discovering “God’s will.” I must confess my own guilt in this regard.
Of course, there’s certainly truth to the idea that the Lord has gifted us in unique ways to serve Him and that we can discover these gifts through our passions and use them for His glory. Remember Olympian Eric Liddell’s wonderful line from “Chariots of Fire”? “God has made me for a purpose, for China. But he’s also made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
While the biblical picture of calling and vocation includes our giftedness, it also includes things like sacrifice, persecution and an awareness of the needs of my neighbors. Jesus said that those who follow him carry crosses. Paul said that anyone who wishes to follow Christ will be persecuted. (Remember, Liddell died in a Japanese prison camp.)
It’s really only Christians in the West, especially America, who have had the luxury of dwelling on the question, “What has God made me to be, and what is my calling?” Unfortunately, along the way, we’ve missed other lessons about calling that our brothers and sisters around the world are forced to learn.
The Protestant reformers understood calling to be not primarily about passion, but as a commitment to glorify God in whatever station we find ourselves. It may be your calling right now to be a student, or a mom or a dad, or a minimum-wage employee simply having just enough to make a living. Whether directly connected with our passions or not, God calls us first and foremost to do the next thing well, to His glory, with all of our might.
Short of this awareness, we risk “Christianizing” a sense of entitlement. Instead of asking, “What is God’s Will for my life someday?” we should be asking, “What does God want me to do next?”
In Acts 17, St. Paul says that God determines the exact times that people live and the boundaries of their dwelling places. Thus, whether we inherit a culture of economic downturn in which many can’t find a job or a culture in which jobs are so plentiful we truly can “follow our passions,” we accept either as being from God’s hand. Our calling — whatever culture we find ourselves in — is to live fully engaged in this world, regardless of the particular circumstances.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Bravely take hold of the real, not dallying now with what might be. Not in the flight of ideas but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of the living.” Amen. These are good words for every generation.
• John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and author of “Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World Through Ordinary People.”