Every spring at graduation, the years’ honorees hear an insidious untruth proclaimed over and over. It is delivered with the absolute best of intentions and from the purest of heart—but that will not change its—falsehood or its potential harmfulness. What am I speaking of?
“You can be anything you want to be.”
Those eight words are a mantra at graduation ceremonies, but they can be found anytime in books that occupy the bestseller lists, heard from educators and coaches, and from well meaning parents, grandparents, and friends. The words are wrong because they assume a raw arrogance—that by simply willing something we can make it happen; that we are somehow omnipotent over all circumstances and situations. They have special appeal to those who haven’t been far enough down life’s road to appreciate the hubris of what is being claimed.
After the flood, God told the people to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They did that for a while, but then a considerable number settled at a place called Shinar and said, “Enough of this! We’re not going to fill the earth. We’re stopping right here and we’re making a name for ourselves.” Their sin was they thought they could be anything they wanted to be. It was all up to them and about them—their purpose, their plan, their power, for their prestige. (You can read Genesis 11 if you don’t remember what happened to them).
The truth we should be proclaiming is, “you can be anything that God wants you to be.” The difference between these two statements is one word (God), but that is all of the difference in the world. One has us at the center, the other has God. One would have us calling on God to respond to our understanding while the other would have us trying to understand how to respond to God’s calling. One is pagan, the other is professing.
Of course, the problem isn’t just that we lack the power to be anything we want to be—our guidance system doesn’t work well at times. Left on our own, we tend to go off on all sorts of tangents that aren’t good for ourselves or others. The prophet Jeremiah spoke to this when he wrote these words:
I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps (10:23).
“You can be anything you want to be,” is a counterfeit version of reality. It is fool’s gold. It is cubic zirconium.
Not long after the Babel incident, God called a man named Abraham to follow Him (Genesis 12:1ff). Abraham obeyed and was blessed by God. He found something better than being what he wanted to be—he became what God wanted him to be.
That’s a great plan for life!