Over the years, I have noticed a discrepancy in the way parents treat their children’s ambitions. Parents often tell their young children that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. But do they really mean it? Fast forward several years, and have these same children – now young adults – tell their parents that their goals in life do not include higher education or a reputable career, but that all they really want to do is drive a garbage truck, or be a cashier in a fast food drive-thru window. All of a sudden, the support disappears and is quickly replaced with talk of wasted potential and the need for a respectable living.
Why the inconsistency? Our parents love us, and so they want us to dream big and shoot for the stars. They do not want us to think that we are not good enough to reach our goals. They try to encourage us to be ambitious because they want what is best for us. But what is best for us? What determines what is best in our lives? A large salary? A fancy office? A respectable title? What is it exactly that our parents really want for us? And what should we want for ourselves?
As we answer these questions in our lives, we must look inside ourselves and examine the deepest part of our being. We must understand who we really are, and doing so requires an understanding of ourselves as children of our Heavenly Father. This point is nicely illustrated in the classic Disney movie, “The Lion King.” Frightened and overwhelmed by his father’s death, the young lion prince Simba runs away from home. Years later, he is discovered living a life of “Hakuna Matata” – food, fun and friends with no worries.
Yet something is missing in Simba’s life, and that something is revealed in a conversation with his dead father, Mufasa, who appears among the stars one night to speak to his misguided son. “You have forgotten who you are, and so have forgotten me,” Mufasa says. “Look inside yourself, Simba. You are more than what you have become.” As he remembers his identity as the child of a king, Simba also remembers his calling. He returns to take his rightful place on the throne, assuming the responsibilities that accompany this role.
Like Simba, we can become lost chasing a life of luxury and excitement, money and prestige. When we forget who Our Heavenly Father is, we forget who we are, and we will never be happy or fulfilled by achieving our worldly ambitions. Honor in the eyes of the world should never be our goal. Our happiness is found only in doing God’s will. He created us and made us for a special purpose, and unless we are living out the purpose for which He made us, we will never be truly fulfilled.
One of the beautiful things about our relationship with God is that it is individual and personal. God created each one of us as a unique human person, with specific talents, gifts and inclinations. He did not create all of us to be doctors and lawyers. Rather, He calls some of us to glorify Him in other lines of work, including those that the world may not see as prestigious and honorable. Remember that Jesus worked as a simple carpenter, not a scribe or pharisee. In my own experience, I have seen the love of Christ demonstrated particularly radiantly in the lives of a janitor and a school cafeteria worker. It was not their work that especially struck me, but the way in which they carried it out, filled with love for everyone they encountered. They reflected the Lord through their humble service.
Of course, God is not glorified by the work of an abortionist or a pornography producer, but any moral form of work can be beautiful in God’s eyes. It all depends on what He is calling you to do. If He is calling you to be a janitor, be a janitor! Don’t worry about reputation or honor in the eyes of the world. You are not wasting your potential if this is what God is calling you to do. Fulfill the purpose for which God created you, knowing that no fancy office or prestigious title on a business card will ever make you happy.
On the other hand, if God is calling you to be a doctor, be a doctor! Doing anything else would be falling short of the life that God wants for you. You will not be properly using your God-given gifts, and you will not find fulfillment anywhere else.
With all of this in mind, we should pray for the grace to hear God’s call in our lives and the strength to follow His will. We should remember that our parents love us and want us to be happy, and that this is why they push us to reach our potential. We should also remember that our Heavenly Father has dreams for us, and He made us to reach those dreams and find true joy. Recalling our identity as children of a King, we should seek to do the work He calls us to and achieve the plans He has for us, knowing this is the only real path to fulfillment.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.