By Stefanie Boyles
Staff Writer for the Daily Grace Co.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
When I was a young girl, I knew in my heart that my greatest desire was to be a mom. I wanted a lot of kids. When I thought about my future husband, his agreement in that department was non-negotiable. I didn’t want anything getting in my way of cultivating a warm and vibrant home environment. As silly or strange as it may sound, this picturesque family filled many of my daydreams, even in the midst of teenage angst.
The thing is, I also happened to accelerate in school. My parents got the sense that I was “smart” during my freshman year of high school. After completing that first year ranking academically second out of over 500 students, everything changed, especially their expectations of me. I ended up graduating the top of my class, and thinking back, I think my guidance counselor introduced me as someone aspiring to be a pediatric oncologist. Little did they know that I was venturing off to the Johns Hopkins University wanting to be a mom more than a doctor. Despite the internal conflict, I knew that my parents wanted the best for me. They wanted me to have opportunities to utilize my gifts. Isn’t that what most parents want for their children? [Side note: I know what you may be thinking – did you graduate? By God’s grace, I did! Being a physician is a tremendous blessing. Being a mother is a tremendous blessing. Many of my peers now live out both roles so well. However, I knew even back then that I personally didn’t have the capacity to do both to my own standards.]
My point in sharing all of this though is this: even though that was over 10 years ago, the tension that comes from competing desires and expectations is real and still so familiar to me. There are so many influences trying to shape our desires; expectations come from a variety of sources. Voices abound – family, culture, the church, our flesh, and more. Then these voices are amplified by social media and the internet. It’s overwhelming! And the sobering truth is, believers are not insulated from all the noise.
In fact, sometimes believers struggle with the tension even more from a different angle. In the midst of competing voices, we ask ourselves, “What’s God’s will for my life?” And for many, this is a loaded question. As a young adult, this broad question led me to a string of more detailed questions: Does God want me to pursue this degree and career? Does He want me to marry this man or wait? Does He want me to work outside the home or stay at home? Am I stewarding the gifts that He entrusted to me if I go down this route?
Talk about overwhelming. Longing to please people and the Lord, I often felt paralyzed. I wanted everything to be black and white so that the “right” path was obvious. But here’s the truth: everything isn’t black and white. The Bible offers broad principles that are sufficient to guide our decisions to live a life that honors and glorifies God, but it doesn’t go into the nitty gritty details. Plus, the Lord has given His image bearers the gift of personal conscience to guide us through the grey areas.
When it comes to God’s perfect will for our individual lives, we are not called to wait for neon-flashing lights at every decision. When we are presented with a fork in the road, we can bring it before the Lord in prayer, seek counsel from trusted friends, and make a decision that aligns with the Word of God. Kevin DeYoung says it best in his book, Just Do Something:
“God doesn’t need to tell us what to do at each fork in the road. He’s already revealed His plan for our lives: to love Him with our whole hearts, to obey His Word, and after that, to do what we like. No need for hocus-pocus. No reason to be directionally challenged. Just do something.”
This doesn’t mean it’s always easy and that the tension completely dissipates. As we live day by day, it is the conscience that we need to vigilantly protect and nurture. In order to love the Lord with our whole hearts and obey His Word, we need to fill our minds with His Word and allow Scripture to shape our conscience. Because believers are not insulated from all of the noise – from culture, friends and family, social media, etc. – it takes concerted effort to make the Word of God the primary input. But the effort is worth it. Having our conscience informed by the Word of God will greatly benefit us as it guides us in the countless decisions we make that fall in grey areas. Consistent study and mediation of Scripture will allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and transform our lives. This is how believers look different from the world and know the will of God! Romans 12:2 says, “ Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As a conflicted teenager, my conscience was primarily shaped by my parents and the culture around me. Though the Lord graciously inclined my heart to Him as a young girl, I was not saturated in His Word. Although my parents exposed me to Scripture enough for it to be someone what of a guardrail in my conscience, I didn’t know the Word well enough to align myself with it. I didn’t have the skills to reconcile the desires of my heart with the gifts He had entrusted to me, so I lived in the tension and aimlessly went through the motions expected of me.
Now as a mama to three young children, I understand that this tension is a reality of our fallen world, and my children will experience it, too. My job is not to create sterile environments for them; instead, it is to equip them to navigate the tension. The best way to do this is to teach them the Word of God and allow Scripture to shape their conscience. It is to model what it looks like to live in submission to the Word of God. As they get older, it is teaching them how to study the Bible for themselves, allowing the Word to inform their desires and expectations. It is providing opportunities for their God-given gifts to be utilized, but as a family, seeking to know and love God first.
It’s a hefty charge, but it’s one that is necessary because the tension will always be there.