Photos c/o Kat, The Refined Woman
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep-seated sense that one day I was going to arrive—that I would wake up one morning and stretch out my arms to the world and revel in a sense of finished self. Probably around the age of thirty-five.
Have you felt this?
I never used to admit it to myself, and I certainly didn’t announce it to anyone else. What normal teenage girl daydreams about her graduation into midthirties adulthood? I’m almost embarrassed to write it now. And yet, from a very young age, I had this unrelenting sense I was moving toward a destination. I was becoming someone, becoming the finished me, and one day I was going to get there. Even as a child, I couldn’t wait to meet this worldly, wisdom-filled, thirty-five-year-old self.
I’ll never forget the evening that all changed.
I was in my junior year of college, lying stomach-down on my mattress on the floor. We were approaching the start of senior year, and my girlfriends and I had moved four miles off campus into the Country Club Apartments. Each night we piled side by side into rooms that smelled like chipping paint and aging carpet, with more telephone wire than country club in our view, and it felt like the ultimate freedom.
I remember that evening so well: bright clangs of laughter and dinner dishes in the other room, the final strokes of neon sky outside my screen door. The flimsy lamp that had followed us since freshman year burned amber overhead as I flipped through a wine-red devotional: Oswald Chambers’s classic, My Utmost for His Highest.
I’ve always equated underlining to learning, so, pen poised, I found the day’s page: July 28. I skimmed the first paragraph and, out of habit, pressed a line of ink beneath what seemed an important stretch of words: “What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end . . .”
I stopped. I put my pen down. I read the passage again.
We should never have the thought that our dreams of success are God’s purpose for us. In fact, His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have the idea that God is leading us toward a particular end or a desired goal, but He is not. The question of whether or not we arrive at a particular goal is of little importance, and reaching it becomes merely an episode along the way. What we see as only the process of reaching a particular end, God sees as the goal itself.
Ash, the soul—tuned by character—is an instrument. When words strike a chord, our spirit resonates. I think the heart can discern a cadence of truth as much as the ear can discern a melody, and that night, those words felt like music.
I lay there for a while, on my mind’s empty beach, as the cold truths caught me up like a tide. What we see as the journey, God sees as the destination. I wondered if I’d had life a bit wrong all these years.
Once upon a time, I believed that who I was today didn’t matter as much as who I would become. That what mattered most was whether I achieved the goals I set for myself, the goals I felt called to. I believed that hitting the sands of some tropical shore was what made the sailing trip worthwhile. But God wasn’t waiting for me to get somewhere. He saw my life, the entire span of it, from birth to death, all at once. And he loved me as I was and as I am and also as I would be, in some eternal moment outside of time.
You see, we are living in one of the most remarkable periods in history for young women. When I look around I see limitless opportunity. Never have young women been given greater access to the world—education to seize, information to gain, platforms to create, blogs to post, social networks to join, online stores to shop!
Think about it: With just a credit card and a travel-booking site, a young woman can be anywhere on the globe within seventy-two hours, reading the comment thread on her Insta-posts before she even feels jet-lagged. When in history has this level of access existed for a young person, let alone a woman?
A young woman, especially in the West, has never had more choices before her than the girl of today. Ours is the era of options and opportunities, and endless public opinions on how we might make the most of them. And yet, the girls I see exiting our twenty-first-century graduating classes seem burdened with more questions than answers, more pressure than prospects, and more feelings of doubt than direction.
I think our generation is caving under the many new and, dare I say, unrealistic pressures of this brave new world: the societal, social, familial, and, most of all, personal expectations for what we should make of this life.
There’s pressure to meet your dream guy, to land the perfect job, to design a storybook home, to raise a small tribe of cherubic children. Pressure to look like the cover girls, to know the most glamorous people, to attract millions of followers, and, of course, to change the world. Or at least end extreme poverty by the time you hit thirty. I hope you don’t feel all these pressures yet, but you probably will. I certainly feel them, and more.
A woman named Courtney E. Martin once wrote, “We are the daughters of feminists who said ‘You can be anything’ and we heard ‘You have to be everything.’”
Don’t be everything, my friend. Be you. Don’t do everything. Do you.
There’s only one you, and the world needs you desperately.