Let's face it: the twenties are tumultuous. If you're like me, you're used to juggling between a fun social life and the gravity of making big decisions while dodging an artillery of questions from friends and loved ones about your future.
I'm used to answering these questions because I travel and move frequently. Here is the condensed version of my response: I'm almost twenty-five, working full time, and saving to go back to school. I'd also like to travel internationally, become fluent in Spanish, and have a family one day.
But sometimes, I have moments when I look up from my computer screen and exhale a torrent of unspoken questions and fears: What if I never make it? What if I don't reach my goals? What does God think of my goals? What if my life isn't a fascinating story?
The overabundance of possibility that affronts me every time I get online only exacerbates these questions. In an instant, I'm faced with photos of friends doing adventurous things, as well as endless resources for internships and jobs, not to mention a blog for every interest under the sun.
We absorb an immeasurable amount of information about what we can do with our lives and, after awhile, it becomes easy to wonder if we're really doing the best with what we've got. It's easy to become anxious: How will we know if we're wasting our lives? How do we decide what to do? More importantly, how does a Christian twenty-something cultivate the discipline of intentionality with the Gospel teaching to be anxious for nothing?
In Christian teaching, the idea of intentionality comes from ancient Monastic thought that sought to answer the question: "What can I do to be more Christian?" In modern terms, it has come to indicate a way of Christian living marked by close examination of the teachings of Jesus and an effort to practice them in the course of everyday living.
Living intentionally as a Christian is more than living thoughtfully. It means living with an acute desire to apply to the Gospel to the daily events of our lives. It can also mean living with close attention to careful stewardship of our lives and resources. Practically, this might look like setting goals, budgeting carefully, journaling, and building a relationship with a mentor that keeps you accountable.
But how can Christians think so much about their life while, in obedience to Christ, not thinking about it at all? What's to keep the intentional Christian from falling prey to self-reliance, anxiety, and autonomy?
The answer, I think, is context and contentment.
Context is an overarching reality that gives meaning to everything else. The challenge for the twenty-something Christian is to learn how to operate in a context of trust. We must recognize that God is a present and trustworthy storyteller, intimately involved in using our lives for His overarching purpose.
Contentment is an approach to life that recognizes our freedom to do something with our lives, while acknowledging the reality that God will interact with those choices in a way that brings us closer to Him. Contentment says, I hope for this outcome, but if I don't get what I want, I choose to trust and to give thanks. Like Paul, we aim to be content wherever we are.
I stayed up late last night after Googling language-learning software and reading about Portugal. I looked for service projects I can do next summer, and glanced at a reading list for a university program for this spring. Then I left all the books and computer on the couch and went to sleep, dreaming. Today I'm back at work, but I'm not falling apart in an anxious frenzy that I won't reach my goals.
I'm starting to learn that trusting God is the only context that frees us to both labor in the present and aim for our dreams without making them an idol. We can practice the discipline of stewardship in one breath and in the second give thanks that, ultimately, God is in control. We can give thanks that the Gospel is a narrative that offers freedom from the burden to write our own story.
Doubtless we will have moments when our ideal narrative will butt heads with God's story. But operating in a context of trust and contentment reminds us that God knows us better and is working to bring us to a place of authenticity and flourishing.
Tiffany Owens is a writer working for WORLD on Campus and WORLD Magazine.
Editor's note: This column is part of a series of essays on a back to school theme. Click here for a list of other essays in this series.