They Were Kinda Lying

Tony Peterson

My parents, teachers, and other advisors told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up. A recording, made to send to Grandpa, documents my first thoughts about that prospect. Dad asked each of us kids what we wanted to be when we grew up. At four years old, I shouted loudly and proudly, “A boy!”

I didn’t understand that Dad meant, “What work do you want to do when you get older?” Over time, my answer to the question evolved.

As a preschooler, I wanted to be a cowboy. I had a cowboy hat and fake guns. Later in life, I rode a horse once. That’s as close as I ever got to being a cowboy.

In kindergarten, after my teacher complimented my crayon drawings, I wanted to be an artist. That hasn’t really worked out for me either.

In sixth grade, I wanted to be an anthropologist. I liked the idea that anthropologists studied different cultures, and I liked the fact that the name of the occupation began with the first four letters of my name—Anthony.

In high school, I determined that I wanted to be a lawyer. Lots of TV shows were about lawyers who looked out for the little guy. I wanted to be a hero who saved the day by arguing.

Quizzical teen FTR TSP 96399720When my advisors said that I could be whatever I wanted to be, they meant well. They didn’t want me to impose limitations on myself. They wanted to instill hope and high self-esteem. I am grateful to them for those gifts. But in their giving, my advisors also stretched the truth. We don’t have the ability to do every job we can think of, because the Creator made each of us with different abilities. While I pursued the idea of each job for a time, I learned that, no matter how hard I tried, my abilities were limited. The beauty of life is that God gives us the freedom to pursue our heart’s desire as far as it takes us.

In another way, my advisors did speak the truth. It turns out that we can be anything we want if be refers to our character rather than our jobs. I’ve discovered that my being matters more than my occupation. If I define myself primarily by my occupation, I’ll be in trouble if my job ends for one reason or another. So the question is not so much “What kind of work do you want to do?” but “What kind of person do you want to be?”

For the qualities that I aspire to, I turn to Bible passages like Galatians 5:22–23 (NRSV), which speaks about the “fruit of the Spirit,” character traits such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Those qualities reflect the kind of person I want to be, regardless of what I am doing.

I’m in the middle of looking for my next occupation. I don’t know what it will be. But I do know that with God’s help, I can become the kind of person I want to be. And that’s no lie.



Read Galatians 5:13–26. What surprises you about the scripture’s descriptions of a God-filled life? Which “flesh desires” are present in your life? Which are mostly absent? Which of the Spirit-led qualities are present in your life? Which are partly absent? How will you cultivate more of the Spirit-led qualities?

Tony Peterson is being a husband, father, and grandfather in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s also looking for some stuff to do.

—from devozine (May/June 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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