What would my 20 year-old self think of me now?
Last week, I sat in an arena with 20,000 college students, asking this question. The Passion Conference—simultaneously hosted at three arenas in Atlanta and Houston (with a combined attendance of 40,000 students)—felt like a time machine. It was as big and amazing as 15 years before, when I sat in a similar arena with a similar group of students, praising God and dreaming of a radical life for Christ.
Back then, I believed anything was possible. Anything. Nothing was too great for God. I had countless friends giving sacrificially, sharing faith without fear, and traveling overseas as missionaries. That’s what we thought it meant to be Christian, and that’s what I committed to, for the rest of my life.
Attending the Passion Conference again so many years later felt like going to a wedding and remembering my vows. It reminded me of my promises and my dreams. It was also a heck of a gut check; I’m not the same person I was back then, and ever since I came home last week, I wondered why.
As I grew up, I went through a holy winnowing of my motives. Not all of my dreams as a young college student were really about God. Some of the “glory” I dreamed of was my own. The excitement, adrenaline, and all-in commitment to Christ—a lot of it was contingent upon my own success. I envisioned standing on the Passion stage one day, and those crowds would be mesmerized by me.
God stripped away a lot of that selfish ambition, but not all of the changes since I first went to Passion have been for the better. If I could sit down with my younger self—or the students attending Passion today—I’d tell them about some of the unexpected challenges to being “radical” as an adult. Being passionate for the long haul will probably look different than they think:
Be radical with your finances.
In a single weekend, the students at Passion 2016 raised more than $800,000 for Syrian refugees. These conferences have raised millions over the years, and their focus on charity sets a strong precedent for how young people think about discipleship.
However, sacrificial giving feels easier when you’re young. That’s because cutting into your budget, and living below your means, isn’t as much of a challenge when your peers are standing on the same financial ground. The further we get into adulthood, the ease of giving changes due to a counterintuitive tendency in our human nature: the more money you have, the harder it is to give it away. And, the more money your friends have, the harder it is to live at a standard below them. I suspect that is why so many Americans struggle with debt: it’s difficult to decide to live below your means.
In his teachings on money and possessions, Jesus warned against clinging to our things too tightly. Especially in a prosperous culture like ours. When we encounter a Christian who lives this way—who’s truly free and open-handed about her belongings—we take notice, because it’s something we don’t see often. That’s why you need to prepare now. Prepare to care about giving, far beyond these years of eating Ramen noodles and living in cheap apartments. Down the road, your commitment to ministry may cost you the bigger house, the newer car, the better stuff, because you never grow too rich for sacrifice.
Be radical with your family.
In my early 20s, I imagined my future would look something like this: I would meet a godly man and fall in love. We’d get married, and go into ministry together, and eventually have kids…although the kid part was a bit fuzzier.
Now a married mother of two, I have learned that family will be one of the great tests of your commitment to Christ. This lesson surprised me, because family has a naturally faith-deepening quality to it. Marriage and children shift your priorities, and they force you to trust God in entirely new ways.
However, I noticed this too: somewhere along the way, my generation went from reaching out to the riskiest, darkest corners of the earth to being afraid of putting our kids in a below average school district. Somewhere along the way, we went from counting our lives as nothing to counting our kids’ lives as everything. We went from witnessing to the “kingdom come” to setting up our own little heavens on earth.
It happens slowly, as you settle into your life with the house and the yard in the nice neighborhood. But sure enough, protecting your kids becomes an excuse for not being bold and unafraid. You forget that the best inheritance you can leave for your children is not things, or even opportunities, but a passion for Christ that is foolishness to the world.
Your kids will vie for an idolatrous place in your heart. It happens because it’s easy. Kids are awesome. I just wish I had been better prepared for how they would impact my call to live for Christ.
Be radical with your days.
Being radical for Jesus does not mean standing on a stage in an arena. It may not even mean going overseas, or selling all your belongings, or leading countless people to Christ. It could, but those things will not be the substance of your faith. What determines the trajectory of your life is the accumulation of your individual steps. How you spend your days will determine where you are, and who you are, in 10, 20, or 30 years. So give your days to Jesus. Give time to love him and love his people, every day. Radical faith—truly radical, world-altering faith—starts very, very small.
There is much, much more I could say about what lies ahead, but I’ll close with this: To all you 18 to 25 year olds who are excited about Jesus, thank you. As I have gotten older and lived a little bit of life, I’ve become more cynical. Now, I look back on my 20 year-old self, and I’m tempted to laugh at her naiveté. And yet, your witness challenges my cynicism. Your loud love for Christ shakes me out of my settling. You remind me of my commitments and call me to my better self.
That’s why I will always love the Passion conferences and college students themselves. We need people in the church with big imaginations and brave hearts, and young people have both. As you are just beginning to make your vows, thank you for helping me stay the course of mine.