[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
As a 21-year-old Canadian coming from a good middle-class family, I have endless options as to what I can do with my life. I find myself so easily distracted with something that piques my interest for a short period of time and then it fades away. For example, I recently bought a skateboard because I used to ride and thought it might be fun to take up again, but I haven’t used the board hardly at all because I more recently started training for a marathon, so I basically wasted money on it.
I find so many things interesting and I want to pursue what I really am interested in and passionate about and mostly what God wills for my life, but how do I figure out what those things are?
The first line of your question really got me laughing! Seriously man, if I had to construct a profile of someone with “endless options,” I probably wouldn’t have thought of a 21-year-old middle-class Canadian.
However, you’ve made a great point. You do have a crazy number of options. As someone with money, age, freedom and Tim Hortons on your side, you really can do anything. But sometimes, having everything at our fingertips makes it impossible to really grab on to anything. It’s a strange psychology that our minds get uncomfortable when we’re not constrained. It’s as if we really can’t allow ourselves to feel freedom.
You (we) have to push back against that.
So here’s what I’m going to do Matt, I’m going to give you two important pieces of advice, advice I wish someone had told me this when I was a 21-year-old middle-class American:
Choose to Not Choose
Here’s the deal, Matty: You’re 21. Now to you, that seems like you’re fully immersed into adulthood and needing to make big decisions. But to the rest of us, 21 is basically nestled into the last season of adolescence.
I don’t say this belittle you, but to try and give you some sort of perspective that really, you’re younger than you think. And while some of the decisions you make will shape the person you become, you need to know that a lot of what you do now will have little long-term effect on your life.
For the most part (excluding marriage or other gigantic decisions), your twenties is about collecting experiences. It’s not about figuring out every “right” move (i.e. the fabled skateboard vs. marathon debate), it’s about collecting experience.
So who cares that you skateboarded for a while and then stopped? I’m glad you tried it at all! Who cares if you went to college, changed majors three times and tacked on a year because you were a Young Life leader? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter! It’s your twenties, what matters is experiencing and enriching, not settling and deciding.
Let’s think of the next 30 years like a Crock-Pot recipe. In your twenties, you gather the ingredients. You throw into the pot all of your likes, dislikes, crazy stories, failed relationships, successful relationships, work experience, travel, random hobbies, conversations with God—everything. You just collect and throw it in the mix. In your thirties, you let it stew and simmer and form one combined recipe. You let all the things that once seemed random combine to form a unified new thing: you. And then (as I’ve been told) in your forties, the cooking is done and now it’s time to use what’s been created to serve and influence the world.
So that’s the first piece of advice, Matt, choose not to choose. Instead, just keep collecting and adding to the mix. Don’t worry too much about skateboarding, college majors, career choices or relationships that didn’t work. Remember that all of those things, combined, are forming you. You’re 21, be 21, and trust the wisdom of your elders who are urging you, from experience, to embrace the freedom. Which leads to the second point of advice…
Don’t Overthink Obedience
If you’re like me, you get pretty locked into what it means to be obedient to God. I think we do this because, genuinely, we want to be taking steps toward being the men and women that God has called us to be. However, we get so intense about being right in God’s eyes, that we forget that He loves us despite ourselves.
For example, let’s say a well-meaning, super awesome Canadian twentysomething is praying to God for clarity on if he should, or should not, take up marathon training as opposed to sticking with the skateboard. This young Canuck prays and prays, but hears nothing from God. What should he do? He’s frustrated, doesn’t know what’s “right,” and he certainly doesn’t want to disappoint God! Alas, the young man resigns himself to frustration and questions what passions he’s supposed to pursue.
Here’s the thing though, God probably doesn’t care if the guy skateboards or marathon trains. If God wants you to specifically do one or the other, He’d say something. God knows how to get your attention. But when God is conspicuously silent on an issue, maybe the reason isn’t that you’re asking the wrong question or not listening hard enough, but maybe it’s that He’s already given an answer.
Now we’re getting deep…
Matt, are you reading the Bible, praying and listening to the wisdom of your community? If not, I’d suggest making a healthy diet of those disciplines. Because at the end of the day, I don’t think you’re going to hear a lot from God about things that we sometimes make mini-idols out of (i.e. hobbies, career paths, etc.). But you will garner a lot of wisdom about what matters to Him and how our obedience can fall into line with things God has spoken very clearly about. Things like “doing justice, loving mercy, walking with humility” (paraphrase of Micah 6:8) or “loving God with all you’ve got and loving your neighbor as yourself “ (paraphrase of Mark 12:30).
God’s already told you what obedience looks like, so try not to overthink it. Trust your life to Him, go collect experiences and enjoy the ride. You’ve got this, buddy.
34 and fabulous,
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.