My daughter recently turned 18 and has started receiving unsolicited advice about college and career choices. Some of it is from her parents. :-) Some from people she works with.
With my son being not too far behind her, I decided it was time to write them both a letter and share with them some of my thoughts. I’ve made it an open letter. Feel free to use anything from that you might find helpful.
Dear Holly and Caleb,
Your mother and I are very proud of who you are and who you are becoming. Much of what I’m writing isn’t new to you, but I wanted to write it out for you anyway. Yes I repeat myself, but I do so in love.
As you transition into adulthood and through the rest of life you will receive plenty of advice. The reason for giving the advice falls along a spectrum. On one end is advice that comes from love. It is given with your best in mind from people who have experience and wisdom and want you to be the beneficiary. It may be given so that you can experience the same success and joy that they have, or perhaps so you can avoid the failure, heartache, or pain that come from making poor decisions. On the other end is advice that is completely self-serving – whether or not it benefits you is of no importance to the giver.
As you grow in experience and understanding your ability to discern where along the spectrum the advice is coming from will improve. Do your best to keep counselors who are at the loving end of the spectrum. Generally, their advice will be of better quality because it is usually given with forethought and care. In addition, if the advice proves costly, loving people will remain with you to walk through the consequences.
The Best Counselor
Although we live in a God-breathed world, it seems God is hidden. It is easy to become a person who has eyes but cannot see and ears but cannot hear. Don’t become such a person. The best thing I can recommend to you is to make knowing God and living a reflective, examined life with him your highest pursuit. When you are living in an interactive relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit is when you are most truly alive and most fully human.
This type of relationship starts when you ask him to reveal himself to you. He will do so because he delights in making himself known; it is for your good and the good of those around you. You can be certain he will do so in a way and manner that is appropriate for you as an individual and at the same time not inappropriate for anyone else. (Having the wisdom and ability to do that is one of the things I love most about God.)
My experience has been that the sacred Scriptures are foundational in knowing God. Some people call the book inspired, others call it mystical, and some even call it mythical. Whatever it is, the testimony of your father and countless others is that if you are seeking God, he will meet you in a unique and real way as you read, study, meditate, and reflect on the narratives, chronologies, proverbs, prophecies, poems, and letters in the Bible.
Along with finding God especially present in the Scriptures, I have found him in relationship with others who know him and are seeking him. This is not limited to what our culture refers to as church, and I use the term relationship in its broadest sense. It includes listening to messages from gifted teachers and reading books (both old and new), as well as the more common forms of fellowship with small groups and close friends.
As you grow in engaging God in the Scriptures and find him in the company of others, you will begin to see him elsewhere too. You have eyes that see and ears that hear. God is becoming unhidden to you and you are living your life with him. If you are looking for him, you will find him present with you as you make your bed, study for an exam, pick-up a piece of trash, gaze at a sunset, or look into the face of another.
Surprisingly, if you are seeking him, you will even find him present with you when you are about to (or have done) ungodly things. In fact, it’s most important to draw close to him during these times and let him love you and teach you. Because it’s his love in these moments that can free you and give you the power to overcome harmful habits, thoughts, and ways of being that you inherited from your parents or learned from the environment we live in.
Yes, Love himself is the best counselor you will ever find. Knowing him and reflectively living in his reality is a lifelong journey. Like any journey there will be times of great progress and there will be setbacks. There will be times of active engagement and times of passiveness when you are carried along the way. There will be times of elation when you think you’ve got it, and times of disappointment when you wonder if you ever had it. Just remember, the Trinitarian presence of Father, Son, and Spirit is with you always.
Know Your Blind Spots
The prevailing culture that we live in is dominated by materialism and consumerism. These two streams of thought are part of who you are by virtue of the environment you were brought up in. Materialism disregards spiritual reality. It says that matter is all there is. What you can see and touch is the only thing that is real. Consumerism says that you are incomplete and unfulfilled. Only by purchasing goods or services with increasing frequency and in greater amounts will you be satisfied.
Based on those societal measurements you live the good life. You have been privileged with resources unimaginable to most of the world, developed or otherwise. This includes abundant access to food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, recreation, and entertainment. You have had it all well beyond any basic need. On top of that you have grown up in a loving and supportive environment, for the most part, with two parents who love each other and love you.
Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” for a reason. Growing up in a family of means in a materialistic, consumerist culture can lead to having blind spots. Here are some of them. It can lead you to think you are better than others when you are not. It can lead you to think there is security in possessions when there is none. It can lead you to think you have power and influence when you have none. It can lead you to think you have earned what you have when you have not. And worst of all, it can lead you into captivity by causing you to fall in love with a life that is good and missing out on a life of joy inexpressible. Thankfully, Jesus also said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
It took me a long time to learn this, and in many respects, I’m still learning it. As you live with the great Counselor, he will unwind the lies of materialism and consumerism and their affect on your life.
Vocational & Lifestyle Choices
As you begin college you are going to hear a lot of advice to choose a certain course of study and career path. Much of it will come in a way that encourages you toward a vocation that allows you to maintain the lifestyle you grew up in. You may even hear echoes of things I have told you at one time or another. Sorry about that. I want to release you from all that. You don’t have to live with that pressure. There is a better way.
Remember the message that Jesus shared with his followers in what is called the Sermon on the Mount. In the middle of it he talks about how God knows that you need food and clothing. You don’t have to worry about those things. Seek his kingdom first and God will take care of the food and clothes.
I think the application as you enter this next phase of life is this. Explore the courses of study that interest you. Develop relationships with loving counselors as you grow and learn. And most importantly, walk all that out with God as you discover who you are and how he’s called you to follow him.
You’ll likely have more than one vocation during your lifetime. So travel light and choose vocations that bring you happiness and joy and have a clear sense of connectedness to the kingdom of God. The opportunities for that are limitless – kingdom work is far more expansive than religious stuff.
Remember your father and mother love you and are always here for you.