Last month, I sat down with an ex-mentee of mine for the first time in years.
A few minutes into our conversation, I realised that the second year university student across the table from me was nursing an anxious heart. With furrowed brows, he was telling me about a coveted internship that had slipped through his fingers.
I was no different in university. It was a time when the expectations and pressures of adulthood loomed large — a monolithic mountain made of our fears. I remember making comparisons and beginning to desire wealth and success. There was that thought that without racking up accomplishments in life – our lives would amount to nothing.
I still think about my friends from business school – especially those from Singapore Management University. There are certain drills pummelled into every student’s head there: One internship is never enough, work tirelessly on networking, make full use of your summers, spruce up your resume with accomplishments … It never ends.
By the time I got to the second semester of year 3, I began fretting about my future.
- What am I do?
- Where am I headed?
- When will I find something that I’m great at?
- Am I looking for something that isn’t even available?
I was flummoxed by many questions I had very few answers to. I didn’t know what I was going to do in life. I tossed and turned whenever it came to ascertaining the field that I was to pursue. I had considered consulting, research, public relations, journalism – even full-time ministry!
I wrote this down in my journal during my final year in university: “In the morning, I felt like there was a constant, nagging fear that dwelled in my heart as I was chionging [rushing] my essay. I realised that the past couple of weeks have been like that and I didn’t really know how to manage it … Such a fear and sense of dread when I embark on anything.”
When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.
I’ve worked for almost three years now. Whenever I look back at the hectic times on campus, I realise that the questions most university students are asking could be distilled into two existential ones:
- What was I created to do?
- Am I significant?
It really boils down to identity, because in our early twenties we’re still figuring out and fumbling through a world we cannot fully grasp or control. There were many things that I was interested in — music, urbanisation, branding and writing are some — but I had no clue about what I was particularly good at. God was quietly at work in my life, but I did not have much clarity on where His hand was directing me.
I’ve realised that the biggest danger is not in being unable to answer these questions. It is thinking that these two questions of vocation and identity are intertwined with each other. In university, our competencies and skills are inextricably meshed with our value in society. For instance, we rush into applying for Management Associate positions at premier corporations because we believe that we will be more highly prized in the marketplace.
But the Bible tells us that what we do is distinct from our self-worth. The gifts and talents that God has generously bestowed us with have no bearing on our significance as a son or daughter at the King’s table. Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity, and power is a false identity — an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you, but you are children of God.’”
So, how should we answer these two questions?
I could give you any amount of handles, but what I really believe is that we have to start from a place of surrender. We must believe that forfeiting our soul to gain the whole world will only prove futile (Matthew 16:26). The crowns we adorn have to first be crushed.
On 12 January 2015, I attended a church retreat in the last semester of university. I was about to graduate and this was the very period where the uncertainties of life got inside my head and under my skin. During an altar call session, God waded past the seaweed and moss in my heart and found me. I wrote this in my journal entry to Him thereafter: “You brought me to the end of myself. I offered you my whole heart for the very first time in my life … I don’t know what giving you EVERYTHING entails but I know that there is no other way. I cannot live without you, Lord.”
My heart ached from this prayer, bruised from the breaking of my self-will. I finally caught a glimpse of what it meant for all of me to be found in Him. When we choose not to lean “on [our] own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) or fears — but on God — we give Him the space to unravel the answers to our heart’s deepest questions.
Our Creator knows exactly what our hands were grafted to do. Our Father provides us with the love, acceptance and validation that our broken souls need. In Psalm 33:15, we are assured that God is “he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do”. There is nothing that escapes Him.
If you’re struggling in the throes of university today, I assure you that when you give your life over to Christ, you will never free-fall into an abyss of uncertainty. He is more committed to your destiny than any mentor, employer or friend ever will be.
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” (Saint Augustine)
This article was first published on Selah.sg, and is republished with permission.