“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This question gets asked of kids a lot! I never really thought much about this question and subsequent answers until yesterday when a friend of mine posted a inquiring thought of his own.
It read, “I find it interesting that in America when we ask “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we’re looking for an occupation rather than a quality (i.e. honest, kind, loyal, etc.)”
Makes you think, right? Even when our kids are little and they answer, they usually immediately offer up an occupation. So I was curious, why is that? Why do we immediately assume our “what” is somehow connected to our “who”; our identity?
In his article, American Identity Crisis: Are You Your Job?, Joe Robinson points out that “It’s automatic for strangers at any American social setting — right after “nice to meet you” and within the first two minutes of conversation or your citizenship is revoked. “What do you do?” It’s a line that would be considered rude in many lands, but not here, where inquiring minds have to know: What’s your status and how much money are you making?“
He goes on to say, “The answer could be “I like to bike” or some other expression of your real identity, but the instinctive response is to go with the very real-appearing but pseudo-identity, the job ID. In a rootless culture with no obvious class markers, the job defines the person and the pecking order. You are what you do.”
Yikes! I don’t know about you, but that is certainly not the value or the identity I want myself or my children to have. But realistically, in America, that tends to be our focus. At a recent conference I attended, one of the speakers (Larry Osburne) pointed out that one of the “gods” we serve in America is the “god of potential.”
We see this especially in the areas of sports, academics, and extracurriculars.
Parents are told from the second their child is born about that child’s potential and how to maximize it. The best schools, the best sports teams, the best programs…making sure that their kids have the best chance to have the best future with the best experiences possible; to fully live up to their potential. Whether the goal is a sports scholarship, a cheer championship, highest academic honors or just plain winning at life, parents are willing to sacrifice A LOT to make sure their children can play ball, dance on stage, be in all the classes, attend all the functions and do all the things so they can succeed.
Is it any wonder then when we ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, they give us an occupation, rather than a characteristic?
So what can we do in our homes and churches to help our children form a core identity that is other than what job they are going to do when they are older?
We can intentionally and repetitively remind them of WHO they are
One of my favorite questions to ask my kids is “Who are you?” to which they inevitably respond, “I am a child of God.” This question got asked at the beginning of every Kids Church at my last church and it found deep root in my children’s hearts.
We can do that for our kids too! And that doesn’t negate their uniqueness and abilities; we are children of God made with different gifts and callings, but we are children of God nonetheless. In the church, we can remind them of the great potential they have to do AMAZING things for God! We can call out the gifts we see in them and we can find ways for them to use those gifts within the faith community as members of the congregation.
We can redefine the word WHAT for them
When they talk about what they want to be when they grow up, we can remind them of what we want most for them to be – kind, gracious, loving, brave, honorable, loyal, faithful, etc. We can talk about our ultimate calling to be God-followers, lovers of Him and others, and what that looks like as we interact with others.
One moment I think is great to help remind kids about these things is at night before bed. I have prayed the same prayer for each of my kids since they were born, based on what the meaning of their name is. My oldest will tell you that I pray for her to be a woman of noble character, my middle to be a woman of wisdom, and my son to be wholly devoted to God. The other night,my middle child put my son to bed for me – guess what prayer she prayed? She asked that God would help him to grow into a man of wisdom; the same prayer she’s heard me pray for her for so many years. It’s become WHAT she is.
We can reinforce WHOSE they are no matter where life takes them
Recently a story has been floating around Facebook of a parent who taught their child to text “X” if they needed their parents to pick them up from an uncomfortable situation. What really stood out to me wasn’t the story but the image that went with it. It was a picture of the phone and the text conversation went like this “Mom, can I go to so-and-so’s house tonight?” “Sure! Remember WHO you are; remember WHOSE you are” “Okay, thanks”….. “X” Why do you think that “X” got texted to Mom? Because they remembered whose they were.
And that’s on us, parents and Church, to consistently and loving remind our children that they belong to God, and that they belong to His body the Church, and that whose they are matters as much as who they are when it comes to self identity.
Jon Acuff points out in his talks to parents about social media that we simply cannot change the culture around us in terms of technology and, I would say in this case, identity. But what we can do is create and sustain a different culture in our home; one that reflects our values and our identity in Christ.
Let’s be intentional in helping our children find an answer to this question that is much bigger than just a job. Let’s help them discover who, what and whose they are in Christ!
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About this Blog
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and church planter at Plowshares BIC. With years of experience in family ministry and children’s ministry, she is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. She recently graduated with a Masters of Arts in Ministry focusing on Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family and Seedbed