“So… what’s next?”
This past week I travelled for a very brief trip to visit some good friends, friends who became family kind of friends, in Alabama. Their youngest daughter Jessica was graduating from High School and I made a promise a long time ago that I would see her walk. The next day while my friends drove me back to the airport, Jessica asked us, out of the blue, “so… what’s next?” Her past four years of life had been fairly written for her in school, sports, and spending time with High School friends; but now that part of her life was past and the future was unwritten. So we talked about summer jobs, maybe college in January, her boyfriend and the beach, but nothing was set in stone, her future was open and to her credit she looked at the uncertain future with more hope than fear.
“So…what’s next?” is a question that as we get older we frankly don’t ask as much. For my friend Jessica, she doesn’t have any children, spouse, career or financial obligations limiting her options, it looks like the whole world is open to her. But as we all know, when we start making those decisions on spouses, children, careers, mortgages, rent, cars, insurance; everything that comes with house, home and hearth, our options narrow down and we have responsibilities and obligations to fulfill. No longer does the whole world seem open to us, our choices and the choices made for us, narrow the road we are obliged to take. Pretty soon we stop asking, “what’s next?” because we are pretty sure we know what’s next, simply more of the same: work, bills, day in and day out, same old same old, what comes next, loses it’s hopeful expectation replaced with bored drudgery.
This is one of the reasons that the “mid-life” crisis happens. We try to reclaim a time in our life when our options were not limited, when the sky felt open and the possibilities for tomorrow were endless. Thus, enter the stereotypical mid-life crisis ways of escape including the corvette, the inappropriate age-difference relationship and the jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. But like any mid-life crisis, if taken too far and too seriously, it always ends up the same. You still have to make payments for the corvette and the inappropriate age-difference relationship you had your eyes set on turns out to be a real person after all, not the imaginary person running around in your mind. However, if you really want to jump out of the airplane, have fun, but even that gets old after a while. Life returns, the bills are still there, routine is inescapable and the day to day of life still needs to be lived. The grass is really not greener on the other side of the fence and you still need to water, fertilize and cut it just like the grass on your side of the fence.
The preacher of the Old Testament book of proverbs gives this advice to his son who is facing his own crisis and wanting to escape the confines of house, home and hearth.
My son, pay attention to my wisdom listen carefully to my wise counsel. Then you will show discernment, and your lips will express what you’ve learned. For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil.But in the end she is as bitter as poison, as dangerous as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.For she cares nothing about the path to life. She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it. Proverbs 5:1-6
The immoral woman of Proverbs 5, that his son is trying to find escape with, looks good at first but will only lead him to death and destruction in the end. She is described as being so drunk on her own desires that she is staggering her way to hell and doesn’t even realize it. This immoral woman is of course not always a woman or a man, but a lifetstyle choice that is drunk on its own desire for escape even if that escape leads straight to hell itself.
In our pursuit of escape from the choices we made, we forget that many times there were some really good reasons we made those choices in the first place. Our desire to have house, home and hearth, even with all of the obligations and responsibilities that come with it, can give to us a joy and a peace that is never found in the constant pursuit of escape. There is something to be said for being settled and planted in the ground. It is only the tree that has roots planted deeply in the ground that can withstand the storms that life always brings. Instead of escape, the preacher of proverbs encourages: “Drink water from your own well— share your love only with your wife. Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you.” In other words, find your joy at home and in the choices you made. I know that this is not always possible, and there are choices that we have made that have led us to hurtful places with hurtful people. I am not saying that we should stay in a place and dig deep when we are being abused or abandoned or worse, no one should treat you like a doormat. But I do think that way too often escape is an option that is used too lightly and too easily. We have more control over our situations than we like to admit, but to make the best of our choices takes hard work, commitment and passion. It will be really hard but ultimately worth it in the joy and peace that is to be had from it. Escape, when taken lightly, will never bring you the joy that being deeply rooted will. Instead of trying to find your happiness in escape, try this instead from one of my favorite authors, Dean Koontz in his Novel Deeply Odd, “my husband, he is my skydiving, and my four kids, they’re my rodeo.”
There is one more point that I want to emphasize and that is the work of God in your life. When we only ask the question “stay or escape?” we forget to ask the question “what does God have prepared for me next?” I believe that the love of God in Jesus Christ changes hearts and minds and is making us into something new; his new and beloved people. Because God is making you new through the hearing of his Word, the receiving of His sacraments and the living out of Christ’s love, the world is opened up to you once again! Instead of how can I escape, we need to ask how can I live? How can I live like God is calling me to live? How much deeper can I love? How much more can I give of myself for the sake of others? How much more can I get down in the dirt for those in need? Where else can I go to love the loveless and give hope to the hopeless? I want to tell you that the options are unlimited, the sky is wide open, the future is spread before you like the ocean from the shore. In the love of Jesus there is no end to the possibilities, the future is unwritten and the best is yet to come! Move forward in hope and let God surprise you once again.
So, during this graduation time of year, for my friend Jessica, for our graduating youth, for those whose choices are still pretty open to them, my advice. Be wise, keep your options open as long as you can, make your choices with eyes wide open, don’t be afraid of tomorrow because your God in Jesus is holding all of your tomorrows.
For the rest of us, whose choices have led us where we are now, my advice. Be hopeful, be in Jesus, work hard to make the best of what you have, know deeply that in Jesus the best is yet to come.