“Stop asking kids ‘what’ they want to be when they grow up.”
I recently read a New York Times article by Adam Grant with this very title. I immediately felt transported back to 3rd grade and Ms. Talley (who was a phenomenal teacher) asking each of us in the class to give an answer to this larger than life question. While some kids shared that they wanted to be doctors, firefighters, or teachers, I was brutally honest. “Drew, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I stood up and with great joy answered, “I want to be an NBA basketball player.” My joy soon turned to embarrassment as other kids laughed, and even Ms. Talley giggled and went to the next child. I believe Adam Grant and others who have written about this are absolutely right, but I also believe there’s a much deeper reason why we should be asking a better question to children and it’s not so kids aren’t fed the idea that they are what they do, although this isn’t healthy either. It’s the question I wish someone would have asked me at a young age and I’ve even started asking myself at the age of 36. Not “what” do you want to be, but “how” do you want to be?
Jesus could have entered the world in a position of notoriety, born to a king and queen, or any number of other positions that would have elevated his stature among others. Instead, he was born into a poor family without stature, and would have started to learn and practice the trade of carpentry, following in the footsteps of his earthly father Joseph. This immediately gives us a glimpse into what matters most and what doesn’t through the eyes of God. If God is love and He says He is (I John 4:16), then what He cares about most is “how” we live as His children. How we love our neighbor, how we care for the poor and orphaned, how we use our words, how we use our money, how we use our time, how we think about brokenness in our own life and the life of others. Why is “how” so much more important than “what?” Because the question of how isn’t restricted to any one position, but engages our heart, and can be enacted and lived out regardless of what you have, your age, your season of life, or what family you grew up in.
During His ministry, Jesus never encouraged people to “reach for the stars” or hold high-level, well-paying jobs. Instead He said this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). As he gets older, I won’t be asking my son what he wants to be when he grows up; I’ll be asking him how he wants to be. How do you want to treat people? How do you want to use your time? How do you want to share the love Jesus has shown you with others? How over what. Will you join me?