Pressure Versus Purpose

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The Graduation Generation wants success now, but at what cost?

“I…feel…dizzy…” Jannette’s eyes were bugging out of her head, and she frantically clawed at the air, like she was trying to fight off an imaginary attacker. I jumped up and grabbed her hand and shoulder and eased her on to the couch in my office. She had her eyes closed and instinctively she just flopped herself across the entire couch…crumpling her graduation gown. Her mortar board (aka fancy square graduation hat) was lying on the floor. I reached down, picked it up, dusted it off, and gently set it on the coffee table in front of her.

“I can’t take it…I can’t do it! I can’t take the pressure! I feel like I’m going to crack!”

I took a minute to throw a short prayer up to God and as calmly as I could, I gave her my deepest counselor wisdom: “breathe…just…slow down and take a breath…”

For the next two to three minutes she breathed in slowly while I and my smartphone timed her. It worked. She calmed down and felt better. After several minutes, Jannette, now, with a mixture of laughter and tears, softly murmured, “I’m so embarrassed. I know that I’m a mess…I mean, I should have it all together.”

My mouth dropped open. Jannette was 17! Why did she feel all this pressure? Where was this coming from? Surely there was more going on here than I understood. Jannette explained.
Jannette was getting ready to graduate high school and had a summer—and her next five years already planned out…down to the minutest detail. She had a part-time job, helped to care for a disabled family member, did regular community service, was the President of her Senior class, and to top it all off, she was the class Valedictorian–in a class of 450 students. Not too shabby, right?

She had made it! In less than a week she would graduate high school. But the thing that finally threw her over the edge was the actual graduation. She was stressed out about having to give her speech at the graduation as well as having to speak with her family about all the intrusive and, honestly, inappropriate questions that they would be asking her (you know how family can be sometimes). Jannette’s family was filled with professionals; doctors, attorneys, and not one, but two judges, thrown into the mix. There was a lot of pressure and high expectations. But no one was turning the screws on Jannette, more than Jannette!

“I Am the Awesome-est!”

I wish that I could say that Jannette’s story is a fluke, but unfortunately, the millennial and Generation Zs are under some pressure. The fitness apps, podcasts, blogs (like these), and TED Talks mount up. They take every spare moment to learn as many life hacks that they can in order to be the boss of their own lives! To maximize and optimize their lives. However, the painful truth is: if you want wisdom—not just knowledge, if you want more than information, but the most effective way to live your life, you’ve got to decide to just let go. We have to make a decision about who will ultimately be in charge in our lives, us or God? And based off of that decision, we’ll either flourish and fly high, or we’ll fail and crash and burn.

Millenial-aged writer and activist, Melanie Curtin, in her insightful 2016 essay: “Why Millenials Should Stop Trying to be Successful…Immediately” honestly admitted these surprising truths. In her own poll of more than 300 people, she found that: 67 percent of them [Millenials] said they felt “extreme” pressure to succeed, compared to 40 percent of GenXers and 23 percent of Boomers.

There was a marked difference in the open-ended responses of Millennials, too,  an overall mood of anxiety and self-reproach. The majority felt the same way I did: They hadn’t done enough yet, and time was running out. . . somewhere along the way we’ve started to truly believe that it’s normal to have made your biggest contribution to society before you’re even old enough [25] to get a rental car. . . . So Millennials, maybe it’s time we calm down, slow down, and take a collective breath. We don’t have to do it all at once, and beating ourselves up for not having done enough isn’t just bad for us, it’s bad for everyone. Because when we feel like we aren’t doing enough, our self-esteem drops. We become more unhappy and less present in our lives. This is a disservice to all, since it is when we’re relaxed and in flow that we show up as our best selves. It’s also when we’re the most creative, the most inspired, and the most likely to serve the world. . .This won’t happen on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook trending tables. There is no ticking clock. Sometimes it takes longer than you think. But I’ll bet it’s worth the wait.”

Spiritual Relief for the Pressure

As human beings—especially Jesus-followers, it’s natural for us to feel pressure to want to make the most of our gifts and talents for God (see Jesus parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30). However, there’s a clear distinction between the general awareness of our being held to account for how we steward what God has given us, and feeling an overwhelming—even crippling—sense of failure and pressure to succeed.

So, where do we begin? During this season of graduations and new beginnings, what should the first steps be to learning how to live our best lives?

I find it interesting that Peter, of all people, gave us an amazing and systematic account of the process of growth in Christlikeness, sanctification. Peter makes it clear that God has given us all that we need in order to be successful in this life, however it’s all dependent upon how well we stay connected to Jesus (John 15). This process is lifelong—but it must star, and re-start daily.

“May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord. By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:2-11, NLT).

Ellen G. White, in her classic book, Steps to Christ, makes these helpful insights:

“Consecrate yourself to God in the morning; make this your very first work. Let your prayer be, ‘Take me, O Lord, as wholly Thine. I lay all my plans at Thy feet. Use me today in Thy service. Abide with me, and let all my work be wrought in Thee.’ This is a daily matter. Each morning consecrate yourself to God for that day. Surrender all your plans to Him, to be carried out or given up as His providence shall indicate. Thus day by day you may be giving your life into the hands of God, and thus your life will be molded more and more after the life of Christ. A life in Christ is a life of restfulness. There may be no ecstasy of feeling, but there should be an abiding, peaceful trust. Your hope is not in yourself; it is in Christ. Your weakness is united to His strength, your ignorance to His wisdom, your frailty to His enduring might. So you are not to look to yourself, not to let the mind dwell upon self, but look to Christ. Let the mind dwell upon His love, upon the beauty, the perfection, of His character. Christ in His self-denial, Christ in His humiliation, Christ in His purity and holiness, Christ in His matchless love—this is the subject for the soul’s contemplation. It is by loving Him, copying Him, depending wholly upon Him, that you are to be transformed into His likeness (p. 70).

Treasure Hunters

Several years ago I became interested in a Discovery channel show called “Treasure Quest: Snake Island”. Okay.  Real talk: I became hooked. I got to the point where I needed to watch the show every week and I practically lost my mind when I would miss an episode. Honestly though, I don’t even need to take time to describe the plot of the show to you, do I? Just by the title you know exactly what kind of show it is. And the simple truth is that these types of shows are wildly popular! But why? Simply put: we all want to get rich and feel important. But if we can find a “sure thing” to get rich quick—even better!

King Solomon, the wisest man ever, wrote about the secret of wisdom, and it all began in who we would trust:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. . .Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly” (Proverbs 3: 5-7, 13-18, NLT).

Don’t you find it fascinating that Solomon, who was the richest man ever, could say that wisdom was more precious than anything else! When Solomon says that wisdom is the most precious thing in the world, I want to know how I can get it, how about you? Well, it begins with trusting, first, in God.

Deep Dive on Wisdom

I’ve been involved in the field of counseling since 1995 and since then, I’ve made a life focus on studying about and writing books on wisdom and wisdom literature of all types from all around the world—both Biblical and non. Solomon himself spent his entire life in the search for wisdom (by the way, if you want to know what he found, you can read his diary, called “Ecclesiastes”!—but I digress). In the last lines of the last chapter of that diary he pulls back the curtain so to speak and gives the reader the wisdom life hack: “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, CEV).

Many Millenials have admitted to me that they feel an acute sense of anxiety and pressure to have their life all figured out and/or to be the best at something—popular culture experts have jokingly referred to as a “quarter-life crisis”! Now, I don’t want to minimize their feelings or concerns, but, realistically speaking, I’ve never never met anyone who, in their early to mid-twenties, has their life figured out. However, seeking for wisdom, just like Solomon did, is a great start. And when it comes to the search for wisdom, out of all the many, many books I’ve read on wisdom literature, hands-down, the best one that I can strongly recommend you read is called The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World by Pastor Brett McCracken.

The author, writing about his own book, states that it is a plan for stabilizing a sick society by making us wiser. He makes the point that the online world is a disaster of untrustworthy information. The glut, the speed, the orientation of digital information all lead to chaos of our beliefs. How can we know anything? Short answer: We don’t need more information. We need more wisdom. We need a diet built around knowledge-intake that actually cultivates wisdom. We need for our mental and spiritual health what the Food Pyramid was for our physical health: guidance for what to eat and what not to eat and in what proportions, so we can become healthier and wiser. In this book he lays out what I believe is a clear and, most importantly, a Biblical plan for gaining wisdom. You want to gain wisdom, then you need to read this book!
Check out the graphic that the author uses to lay out the simple framework of the wisdom pyramid plan.

We don’t need to have it all figured out; we just need to know that one Person.  God, knows (Jeremiah 33:3), and that He has a plan. And in His time, He’ll clue us in. Check out this comforting promise:

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT).

So today—and everyday—take the pressure off. Do your best to connect with those reservoirs of wisdom and let God do the rest.

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