Recently I talked to a professor from a Christian college about an experience he had with one of his students in which the student had a panic attack in his office. Why did this student have a panic attack? Because they were afraid their life wasn’t going to be significant enough. They feared a life of suburban obscurity in which everything in their life like a spouse, children, home, cars, and job would be part of a bland and unexceptional landscape.
They weren’t going to live radically enough. They weren’t going to be characterized by crazy love. They weren’t going to rescue street children in Brazil, or start a string of homeless shelters in Mexico, or translate the Bible into the language of a South Pacific island of cannibals, or mobilize the underground church in North Korea to overthrow the government.
They weren’t going to be missional enough, not devoted enough, not sold out enough for Christ and His Kingdom.
But this is just one end of the spectrum, graduates. On the other end of the spectrum, is what some have called “adultolescence”. This is a fairly new thing in our culture in which young men and women even into their late twenties are content to live at home, not work or work in a limited manner and essentially delay their own maturity.
“One way of describing this group is to highlight the tendency to delay adulthood or stay in the youth mindset longer than we used to.” This group of young adults is characterized by feeling like they are “in-between” or “preparing for life” or “in limbo” or “in transition”.
One way of thinking about adultolescence is that this group of people is perpetually getting ready to do life but never arriving at the point where they have actually started life as an adult.
So I ask you the question today, graduates, do you see yourself in either of these two areas? Do you fall more into the “afraid of insignificance” crowd or into the adultolescent crowd? Or maybe you don’t feel like you fall into either category but can see yourself leaning more one way than the other.
These two extremes seem like two complete opposites, don’t they? The afraid-of-insignificance crowd seems hyper and manic and super-energetic while the adultolescents among us seem to be lethargic, passionless, and lacking vision. But what would you think if I told you that they share the same root cause? Narcissism.
Narcissism is being overly concerned about who you are, what you are known for, where you want to be headed. A narcissist is pre-occupied with self. And that’s what both of the crowds I’ve mentioned have at the root of their problems. The fear-of-insignificance crowd is pre-occupied with not making a big enough splash in the name of Christ.
They think that if they can’t see the splash, that their life won’t matter. On the other hand, the adultolescents among us are pre-occupied with self as well. Maybe they have made comfort and convenience an idol in their life. Maybe they are afraid of starting life in the wrong direction. Maybe they can’t be bothered with a job that would be unsatisfying or low-paying.
But regardless of which camp you lean towards, there is an obsession with self. So if these are the Siamese twins of temptation that the college and young adult culture is faced with, is there medicine for what ails us? Are there any sign posts that might point us toward a better way?
Listen to what the apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4.9-12: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” [1 Thes. 4.9-12]
That seems to be a very tame vision of life, doesn’t it? Loving one another, living quietly, minding your own affairs, working with your hands, being dependent on no one. That sounds horribly normal. For the fear-of-insignificance crowd, there’s no splash here. If we follow this instruction we might end up with a very unexceptional life, or worse, we might end up in the suburbs. For the adultolescent this sounds like a lot of work for very little return.
But, graduates, keep in mind that this life is not about you. It’s not about how big of a splash you make or how cool or fun your existence is. God is the ultimate reality. God’s existence is infinite. But it’s infinite in its big-ness AND in its small-ness. His reality is infinitely expansive and infinitely miniscule. This means that his glory and beauty and character are shown to us in even the tiniest and most normal details of our lives. And most of the time the thing that keeps us from being able to see Christ in this life and in the lives of others is that we are too pre-occupied with our own. And I think this is why the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote the Thessalonian church what he did.
Because he knew that if we aren’t living quietly but have to be at the center of the action, or when we are always getting into other people’s business, or if others have to take care of us because we aren’t working… then life is all about me.
But life isn’t all about me or you. It’s not about getting the job I want or having the friends I want or the phone I need or the class schedule or the car.
Christ is calling us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice; a living sacrifice while starting an orphanage for Brazilian street children and a living sacrifice while you load the dishwasher; a living sacrifice while you sign up for your college classes and a living sacrifice while you talk to investors about a start-up company that drills wells for drinking water in Namibia.
But presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice, pouring ourselves out and into the smallest details of our lives for the glory of Christ is the point. But it’s precisely at the point where we lose ourselves in the zealous pursuit of Christ’s glory in the normal parts of our lives that we will find just how satisfying our calling really is.