I’ve been thinking a lot about motivations for things and how that affects what we do. And this quote (I’m not sure where it’s from, but I’ve heard it and read it several times) strikes me as a statement about humility and purpose as defined by God.
Here’s my school situation currently: I’m planning on graduating in December. Which is…very soon. Meanwhile, I’ve collected quite a group of professors/instructors who adore me and flatter me on a regular basis. I’m saying this as a blunt statement of fact, not as a boast–it’s actually a little embarrassing to me! Just saying that this is the situation. Well, their next question after some statement to the effect of “you’re so brilliant” (yikes)is “What are you doing next? You’re going to grad school, right?! What are you going to do with your life?”
In those moments, it has become VERY important to remember: I have nothing to prove. I have no one to impress. I have only One to please.
Because just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. And purpose and achievement in the eyes of these wonderful people is not the same as it is for me.
For example, I told the professor who introduced me to the world of linguistics research that I am planning to become a Bible translator and I’m probably going to go to one of two specific schools to get an MA in Linguistics and Bible Translation. She responded, “And there’s a market for that?” and “Just make sure to keep your options open. You have so much potential. Our discipline would miss out on a gem if you didn’t go and get your PhD.”
I love her to death, and she has been a huge blessing to me, but this conversation stuck in my mind as a reminder of the stark contrasts at play here.
My definition of success is not tied to monetary gain, and it’s not tied to “the market.” It’s not defined by achieving the highest level of education in a given field. It’s not even related to “generating meaningful knowledge” as a researcher. My definition of success is very simple and very testable: Glorifying God in whatever I do (1 Corinthians 10:31) by following His will and walking worthy of my calling (Ephesians 4:1)
I asked a friend a question a couple weeks ago: “What do you do to remind yourself why you started?”
He said: “Why you start and why you stay don’t have to be the same thing. Sometimes, you won’t remember why you started, but there are clear reasons why you stay.”
Why did I start college here? Because I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I needed a degree in something. Business, here I came, and I started my degree early. A year later, I transferred to this university across the county from my house because, despite all my shock at this disruption of my plans (to finish my degree at a Christian college), it seemed God had a plan for me to be here. I had no clue what the plan was, but I was looking forward to seeing it revealed. I agreed to try studying here for a year.
Why am I still here? Because by the end of that year I had seen countless reasons, small and big, that God meant for me to be here. I had found linguistics and knew it was for me. I had begun to join a community. I had found a mission field among the students, faculty, graduate students, and staff. I had found opportunities to grow–in knowledge and faith.
And so I liked what my friend said about staying for a different reason, because you’ve changed as a person. But I also think it’s important to remind myself of the core reason I started here… because God called me to. And even though the circumstances have changed so much, and the path ahead is much different than I expected, the purpose is still to follow God’s will. Not blind ambition. Not the expectations of others.
So in situations that come up, where others’ expectations seem so flattering and alluring… I need to remind myself:
I have nothing to prove. Not due to my “non-traditional education background” (of homeschooling or how I started my degree), not due to my personal pride.
I have no one to impress. “If I boast, it is only in the cross…” (Galatians 6:14). I am not to further my own reputation, but to shine as a light so others see Christ in me. I am to live so “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
I have only One to please. I am not here to please myself. I am not here to please others and meet their expectations. I am here to serve God, and to make choices that please Him.
It’s humbling. Oh, yes, it’s humbling. It means sometimes causing confusion and disappointment for people I really care about and respect. But it also provides an opportunity when up comes the question of “why.”
“Why would you limit yourself like that?”
“Why would you give up the opportunity to do a fully-covered PhD?”
“Why would you want to pursue a ‘career’ that requires you to fundraise?”
“Why would you make that kind of sacrifice?”
In those opportunities, I have the chance to fulfill a tiny bit of my purpose, right here, right now, and say: