“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked my children.
My 2-year-old son hasn’t settled yet. He said, “I go work. I take my bag”
My 4-year-old daughter has big plans. She answered, “I’m going to be a mom, and a princess, and work at a church.”
We’re all royalty before God, right?
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” When you stop to think about it, it’s an odd question. Why do we ask kids so young to tell us what they want to be? We want them to dream, of course. We want them to get involved in activities they enjoy. We want them to know that they can be whatever they want — the skies the limit! But choose a career at 4? Well, that’s just silly.
Many kids at such an age pick something they see. My 4-year-old wants to be a mom and work at a church – just like her mama. I’m proud that thru all the mistakes I make as her mom, she still wants to be like me – at least for now. I, however, am no princess. But perhaps … I am the Queen (of this house anyway).
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher like my mom. In High School, I wanted to be an English major. In my senior year of being an English major, I suddenly realized that I had accomplished that goal, and had to ask: what now? What in the world was I going to do with my English degree? That journey proved a bit harder, but my call to ministry is a story for another day.
Yet, when I look back to those earliest years when I wanted to be a teacher, I also said something else. I used to name someone I wanted to be. Or rather, who I wanted to be like. When I grew up, I wanted to be like Ms. Agnes Peebles.
Ms. Peebles was my Sunday school teacher at my home church (where I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained, and where my parents still attend). Mrs. Peebles was kind, loving, and seemed to know everything about the Bible. She was always patient with us rowdy kids. When we were silly, she’d just smile lovingly and help us focus back on the lesson. As I grew up, I knew that Agnes was very involved at the presbytery level, serving on committees and chairing many. I knew much of her work focused on social justice. As an adult, I found out that before her retirement, she had taught in many schools and worked as a Christian Educator in many churches. She wrote curriculum and CE resources for major publications. She was named Christian Educator of the Year by the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators in 1986. (Check out this article on her from the Synod of the Trinity. from 2019. The picture on the left is how I remember her ).
As a child, I never knew of all her accolades, but I still knew I wanted to be like her. It was her demeanor, her gentleness, her love, and her service that inspired me. Also, Agnes seemed like she never aged. For 20 years, I moved around the country to Ohio, New Jersey, Texas, and New Jersey again. Every time I visited my home church, Agnes was there, greeting me warmly at the door. She’d come with a smile of support, a twinkle in her eye, and a spring in her step. Still serving, still teaching, still changing the world, one gentle word at a time.
Agnes Pebbles died last month of the ripe old age of 102. When my mom called to tell me the news, she said, “You always said you wanted to be like her when you grew up.” I said, “I still do.”
When I grow up, I want to be kind.
When I grow up, I want to be supportive.
When I grow up, I want to be loving.
When I grow up, I want to understanding.
When I grow up, I want to give what I can when I can.
When I grow up, I want to be a servant of God.
When I grow up, I want to be like Agnes.
Yet sometimes I forget this. That I’m not supposed to be a thing, a job, a vocation, a what. I forget because this is what we are taught from the youngest of ages. Study hard, so you can grow up to be whatever you want (i.e. go to college to be a doctor or nurse or teacher or lawyer or engineer or banker or pastor or …). Grow up to be a what.
I feel my what very strongly. Being a pastor is my identity. Who are you? I’m the Pastor of 1st Presbyterian Church of Haddon Heights. My what is who I am, but it’s not all of who I am. I’m also a friend, and a spouse, and a mother, and a daughter, and a sister, and an aunt, and a niece, and a colleague, and a stranger, and a beloved child of God.
What if we changed the question? What if we grew up to be a who?
WHO do you want to be?
With all that we’ve have been through in these last 2 years, it seems that we are struggling with our “what.” I’ve heard so many parents voice their worry that with all the school disruptions their children are “falling behind.” To which, I keep asking: behind what? What exactly are we trying to achieve? I also know many high achieving adults who have recently left the jobs they had dreamed of having since they were kids. The great resignation has left many re-evaluating their what. Many wanted to be a <insert profession here> since they were little children. Yet now, as they cannot continue to do that, they ask: who am I, if I’m not a <insert profession here>?
I wonder if this is a different time. This is not for academic achievement but human achievement. This is not a time for professional achievement but Godly achievement. This is a time to realize that we are a who. What if in this time, we learn how to be kinder? What if we learned to be more forgiving? What if we learned to care more? What if we learn to live by faith and not by sight? What if we learned to be gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love? What if this is a time for learning to love our neighbors as ourselves? What if this is a time to learn who we will be, not what we will be.
Today, I re-asked my children the questions: What do you want to be when you grow up?
4-year-old: A mom.
2-year-old: A big boy.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
4-year-old: Minnie Mouse.
2-year-old: A dinosaur
It’s all a work in progress … for we are all works in progress.
No matter what my children choose to do when they grow up, I hope they will always be who they are. No matter how they choose to serve this world, I hope they will always know whose they are.
Who will you be when you grow up?