“Consider the lilies of the field,” I told her as she sat in my office, agonizing about grad school. She was a college senior, diligent, intelligent, able to do many things. She had always held herself apart from the life of parties and play that most students indulged in, so she seemed a little strange to them – tall, bony, her curly hair riding her head like a question mark. I liked her, even though I didn’t know her well. “Consider the lilies of the field,” I told her, and she told me I was insane.
I was close enough in age to her that I understood her reaction right away. Everything in our lives as young people had been about answering three great questions. Who will I love? What work will I do that will give my life meaning? What place will I call home? We had been trained to ask these questions by concerned parents, and we had sought educational attainment and emotional stability so that we could answer them well. Yet Jesus, in the twelfth chapter of Luke, tells us that these questions are meaningless. Don’t worry about home, he says, God will take care of you. The only work you should care about is my work, the work of spiritual transformation. The only love that really matters is the love of God. No wonder the disciples balked at this and assumed that, as disciples, they could be held to some different standard.
If the student in my office had taken Jesus’ advice, she would have been going against the wishes of her parents, her teachers, and her peers. To really give up everything for the sake of God is deeply countercultural, and I don’t know anyone who has really done it. I certainly haven’t. The people I’ve known who have come closest to this standard are monks and nuns, and there’s a reason why most of them are elderly. We put a burden of stability and success on the young, and we’re not the only culture that does this. In Hinduism, the ashramic cycle of life assumes that the first twenty years of adulthood will be devoted to providing for your family and community through hard work. Indeed, if the whole world followed Jesus’ advice, we’d all starve. And knowing this, it’s no wonder that he follows up the beautiful reassurances of God’s love for ravens and lilies with a dire warning about division in families and the collapse of civic culture. He knew where his counterculturalism would lead.
The student in my office couldn’t give up the life plan that she had created for herself. To do so would be to disappoint all of the other people who had loved and molded her up until that point. Yet it was causing her profound anxiety. She, like myself, like the disciples, like everyone else, would not live up to Jesus’ strict standards. The most we can try to do is to let go of the worry. To pursue love, and home, and work, but also try to cultivate inner peace at the same time, and to be okay with letting certain dreams for our own futures dissipate and be replaced by something else. I don’t know what became of the student, whether she got into the grad school she wanted and fell in love and found her life’s vocation. But I know my hope for her. It’s the same hope I have for myself, and for everyone. That we may sometimes fail, and sometimes not get what we want, but be at peace.