This post is part of a series this year, for my adult children on their birthdays.
“College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.” David Brooks
Our youngest son Pilgrim is in Uganda this summer. And tomorrow he turns 22.
I wouldn’t say he went there to find himself. He has a growing sense of who he is and what he cares about, of course. But he partly went because his roommate was dating his ex-girlfriend.
And he partly went because we named him Pilgrim. He’s an adventurous sort, who never met a stranger. He rode his bike from Virginia to Oregon two summers ago, all the way from sea to shining sea.
But regardless of what he was looking for this summer, I appreciate what he found. He found people in need, and himself infinitely more rich than he ever imagined.
So rather than just hanging out with a friend, as he expected, he ended up helping others, which reflects the generous heart of the peacemaker I have always known him to be.
It’s good that he never connected with his Sudanese friend, who, by African standards didn’t need much at all. Instead he ended up working with a ministry that focuses on war widows, hanging out at the orphanage, and playing the bass in the worship band at the church that sponsors all this.
These women contribute to their livelihood by making low-cost sanitary pads for girls who might otherwise drop out of school. And while Pilgrim didn’t find himself, he found a place for himself, organizing a recycling effort in Gulu to provide the raw materials they need.
There was no recycling effort. In fact there was no recycling. So he is trying to raise money for manufacturing the cardboard storage bins and planning a concert to raise awareness. And when I hear Pilgrim talk about the work he is doing I’m very proud, not about recycling so much as about his real engagement with a real need.
This is how young men grow up. Not by finding their calling, but by responding to a call. Different times. Different places. I understand that. But it’s not really so much about finding the place you fit as about fitting the place you find.
“The best way to find your calling is by finding a problem to solve,” says Brett McKay of the Art of Manliness website. That’s generally because we spend too much time thinking about what we want, and too little time thinking about what other people need.
The problems to solve are many, and they don’t all require us to move to Africa. But engaging a broken world in consistent, creative ways is how we grow, testing our skill and knowledge against something that matters. We don’t find ourselves. We lose ourselves.
McCay cites a recent column by David Brooks in the New York Times who said:
“Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task.”
I think Brooks is right.
And I hope every birthday Pilgrim finds himself dissolving into some task. He has many gifts. He can organize people, motivate people, and call people out to a higher purpose. And he can disappear into a problem, serving others.
He can also fail to do so. Or to finish the task. We all can. Pilgrim must confront his weaknesses as well.
But I know him to be faithful, sincere and generous. And while he has much to learn about many things, he lives in the moment in a way very few can or do.
So on this birthday, and every birthday, I pray that through the word of God he will know the heart of God. And by so doing see and serve the needs of God’s own people, for God’s own glory.
That’s calling enough for any man.
Other posts in this series:
an earnest and gracious heart, Karina
Celebrating a son-in-law, John
Happy Birthday, Princess, Margaret
So here’s to Katie, wife
be that guy, me