When we adults talk to teenagers, whether our own or someone else’s, we most commonly engage them with questions like: “What college or university are you hoping to attend?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “What is your intended major?” “What activities do you participate in at school?” While these are well-meaning questions demonstrating care and concern, they point to a problem at the core of our culture today. People’s lives are almost exclusively organized and driven by “whats.”
Everyone: every person, every company, every church, every school knows WHAT they do. Everyone can describe themselves by their “whats”- what they do for a living, what church they attend, what school their kids attend, what are their hobbies, and the like. But, here’s the thing: very few people, companies, churches, schools know WHY they do what they do. Your “why” is your purpose, cause or belief. “Why do you get out of bed every morning?” Very few of us can answer that question for ourselves, much less help our kids answer it. As a result, we do a lot of “whats,” oftentimes spinning our wheels, without ever feeling like we’re accomplishing anything, or moving toward a great purpose. It’s frustrating enough for us: why would we wish that on our kids?
God didn’t intend it for it to be that way. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a primary and a secondary “why.” The primary “why” is that you exist to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. That is the chief end of man, of all of us. That “why” is true for all of us who love Jesus, and who are saved by His blood. Everything you have, everything you are, has been created for that “why.” That’s what some people call our “primary calling.”
But, we also have another “why.” This “why” is specific to you, based upon how God made you: your gifts, your passions, what drives you. All these things God has given you and to which He’s called you. Once you figure out this “why,” and you organize your life around it, it answers all the big questions in your life. For kids, it helps them answer so many of these “what” questions we’re so fond of asking. This is our personal calling, what some call our secondary calling. And, knowing your “why” brings great clarity.
Your “why” changes everything for your kids, and for you: It gives our lives focus and helps us make wise decisions about what we do, and who we do it with. When we do work and school and life together with others who share our “why,” it is a beautiful thing. It keeps us going and motivates us, even when life is tough. It gives our work and our life deep meaning, allowing us to keep after it, even when it is really, really hard.
And, God wants to show us our “why.”
Our “why” is a revelation from God, and it comes to us from what we care about: our family histories and our past life experiences, both good and bad. Our pain and our heartaches, even our hurts may be a part of what we value- your “why” may be God moving in your heart to help make sure no one ever has to suffer like you have, or to make sure everyone gets the chances you had; your “why” comes from your loves and your beliefs; and, your gifts and talents are altogether a part of your “why”.
Our “why” comes from a deep understanding of who we are in Christ, and how He made us. As we pray to the Lord, and we seek Him out, asking Him to help us understand this “why” as we reflect on all these aspects of our lives, it starts to come together, starts to make sense, like a mountain emerging from the mist.
Wouldn’t it be great for our kids (and, the rest of us) if we understood our “why,” and the sooner the better? Here are some practical suggestions for engaging your kids in helping them to discover their “why,” all the while praying and asking God for discernment:
- Help them find out more about how God wired them through taking aptitude tests like AIMS or Highlands
- Encourage them to visit with older family members about your family history, what they would consider values personal to your family
- Make a list of adults they truly respect, and figure out what traits those adults have in common or why they’ve earned their respect – that will help them identify what’s most important to them, and lead to components of their “why”
- Write your own eulogy, or purpose statement – ask them to pretend they’ve lived a long, productive life; and then determine what you hope others will say after they’re gone, or how they would want to sum up their lives at the end.
- Answer this question, “If money didn’t matter, what kind of job/career would you most want as an adult?
As adults, we know it often takes time and living to accumulate the life experiences God uses to help form one’s “why”; but, how much more valuable would it be for our kids, how much more quickly would they be able to pursue that calling on their lives, if they knew how much more important the “why” of their life was than the “whats,” and how understanding the “why” drives and changes them? Only we have the perspective to help them see. It’s why we’re the parents.