Recently my 5-year-old granddaughter Nettie came home from school with a paper that read, “When I grow up, I want to be __________.” Nettie’s response: “When I grow up, I want to be Nettie.” And she drew a picture of herself.
As a loving grandfather, I chuckled. It was only later that I felt the full impact of her simple response. I could not help but wonder how I, at age 60, would respond to the same question. What do I want to be when I grow up? The answer seems quite obvious: I have grown up and I am a pastor.
But is that all there is to the question? As a boy growing up, at different times I wanted to be everything from a firefighter to an astronaut. I dreamed of being a preacher and a teacher. I considered becoming a doctor or a lawyer. But I don’t recall ever wanting simply to be me. My world was less about who I was than about what I would do.
One of the first questions we ask when we meet someone for the first time is “What do you do?” We judge people by their vocational status, and we respond to people differently based on their answer. Don’t believe it? Ask any pastor what happens when he or she responds to that question.
Why is it that we put so much value on what we do? In some ways, I suppose, what we do sheds light on who we are. After all, our actions nearly always speak louder than our words. Trust is formed or broken by our actions. Jesus himself said, “By their fruit you will know them” (Matt. 7:16, 20).
Often as I visit with Christians from around the world, the discussion centers on what the Christian Reformed Church is doing. Together we celebrate the transformation of lives and communities. We talk about our opportunities for service in response to God’s call to proclaim his love and grace. We share stories of our experiences as relief workers, community developers, teachers, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs, and missionaries.
The agencies and related ministries of the church form the heart of what we do together as a denomination. The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee is saving lives and rebuilding communities in Haiti and elsewhere. World Missions is proclaiming the gospel on the ground; Back to God Ministries International is doing so through radio waves, the Internet, and print media. Home Missions is coming alongside church planters, college and university chaplains, and existing churches. Faith Alive is publishing excellent educational and discipleship material. Local churches are united in supporting these ministries and others, even as they reach out into their communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Can there be any doubt that what we do speaks volumes about who we are? Yet we can never forget that all the activity of ministry springs from the hearts of men and women who are children of God, followers of Jesus. It is God who has made us and we are his. He has redeemed us and equipped us for acts of service.
First and foremost, life is not about what we do, but about who we are. In her simple response, Nettie had it right all along.
Shortly after Nettie brought that paper home, her story was posted on Facebook. When a friend saw Nettie’s story, he responded by writing, “Beautiful—that is so much her! And in truth the more dissatisfied among us (including me at times) would do well to be as satisfied to be who God made us!”
God has made us—each one of us—to be his children. Each person is unique. Each person was created with God’s purpose in mind.
So what do you want to be when you grow up?
About the Author
Jerry Dykstra served as the executive director of the Christian
Reformed Church in North America from 2006-2011.