In part one, I shared some key points in my vocation journey. I mentioned that would be expanding on several more ideas that come from that story, including the idea of personal security as it relates to our God-given vocations. What do I mean? Simply this: the degree to which we form our core identity around our work versus the degree to which we really entrust our core identity to God and the work that his Son Christ is doing in and through us.
It was my sophomore year of college that I took general psychology. I loved it, and it became clear that I wanted to take the full major. I doubled it with a major in Christian Education, believing that intentional study of a biblical worldview as I learned more about psychology would help me to see truth that I would not otherwise see. Understanding the various disciplines through the lens of a biblical worldview was important to me even back then, although I didn’t understand all the nuances that I do today. It didn’t take long before I had decided I wanted to go all the way and get my doctorate in clinical psychology. I was convinced that was God’s plan for my life, and I became obsessed with the subject matter and doing well enough in my bachelor’s work that I could get into a doctoral program immediately upon graduation. Needless to say, I was ambitious and driven. That was partly a good thing. It kept me focused, and I made good use of my time in college.
What was not good was the obsession factor, that is, the degree to which I unconsciously began to tie my personal security—my core identity—to my future as a successful psychologist. This vision of what my life could be was blinding my vision of the almighty God who was the only one who could set out before me a lasting vision of the truly flourishing life. Along the way I had parents, mentors, and friends who reminded me of Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” But I was mostly interested in just planning MY way. In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller points out “if you make any work the purpose of your life—even if that work is church ministry—you create an idol that rivals God” (40). This is what I had done. Too much of my identity, too much of my personal security was grounded in my future success. What did I think would happen if I didn’t succeed? I didn’t know. I tried not to slow down enough to consider that question.
So what? Doesn’t that happen all the time? Sure. But, does it have to? In looking back, here are few of the challenges I encountered as a result of obsessing over my future and trying to control too much of my destiny. First, I was anxious far too much of the time. A “good day” depended too much on whether I had aced the exam in developmental psychology class. I was not a pleasant person to be around if academics weren’t going well.
Second, I didn’t take as much time to enjoy the community of which I was a part. Although I had a close group of friends, I did not go as deep in our friendship as I could have because I was so consumed with the quest for success. I could have ended my college career understanding what deep community really is had I just taken the time to look up, learn more from my peers, and invest more in the campus community. C.S. Lewis once said “the next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” Now, a few years older (and hopefully wiser), I’m more intentional about living intentionally in such a circle.
Finally, because I was blinded by the idol of ambition and success, I unintentionally instrumentalized my education. Put another way, too much of the value I placed on my studies was for the sake of how it could help me succeed. What I missed as a result of embracing that view of my education was a deeper understanding and love for the ideas themselves and for how they speak to the depth, complexity, and beauty of God’s world. As I look back on my journey, that may be what he wanted me to “get” all along—to see his glory and grandeur through the study of his created order in a way that is possible only if my outlook is outward and service-oriented rather than inward and self-focused. At the end of the day, through redirecting my path (as I shared in part one), God taught me how to trust him with my career. More to come in part 3.
Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.