Can I have an honest moment with you guys?
My life never really looked like most of my peers and there was a time I felt like I was either “missing out” or falling behind in comparison.
I had my son at 19 and entered the workforce to make a living while all of my friends were finishing their degrees, exploring life and experiencing the peak of their independence.
By my early 20’s I’d found myself divorced while everyone went on to find their mate and began to settle down with their spouse.
I entered the demographic and lifestyle of single motherhood while surrounded by families.
Then I’d decided to go back to school and pursue the new path of Clinical Psychology while many were already engaged in their careers.
My journey never seemed to add up with those around me.
And you guys, the comparisons could go on forever between where we are and where we believe we “should have been” already. I bet at some point you’ve even ruminated on a list of your own.
“I should have been married or have met someone already.”
“I should be more ahead in my career.”
“I should have had a real career by this age.”
“I should have been done with school at this age.”
“We should have had children by now.”
“I shouldn’t still be living with my parent or I should be in my own place.”
And it’s easy for us to equate this insecurity of “feeling behind” as completely failing our lives in some way. I’ve had this reoccurring conversation with so many of my friends where anxiety is creeping in from the fear of losing traction on time and the potential of a future being left in the dust.
But can I let you in on the not-so-secret secret I discovered that forever changed the way I view our journey through this life?
The social clock is an illusion.
In psychology, we define the “social clock” as the time table by which cultural expectations or life events to have occurred. Things like marriage, owning a house, having a career, having children, etc. While all of these experiences are worth celebrating, our standards of timing are beliefs we’ve created as a society about transitioning life events. And as you may have noticed, these timetables and expectations change from era to era and even country to country. In Ancient Rome, it was appropriate to enter a marriage contract at 14 years old for boys and 12 for girls (imagine dealing with that kind of peer pressure).
However, the truth remains that life is not linear and the last thing we want is to let fear do the decision making. We might be putting more pressure on ourselves than we need to. Here are a few reasons why.
Your journey is unique to your calling.
Every single “off the beaten path” experience shapes you with unconventional wisdom. It matures you with new angles on life- not only to carry into your calling but for those who are in similar territory. Because if there’s anything that this journey has shown me it’s that someone always finds themselves battling with where you once were. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
If anything, what feels like a “detour” or prolonging becomes another added dynamic to your experience. These experiences become more tools in your toolkit of life and especially tools for ministry. Today when I look back, I don’t regret my off-beaten-path. The twists and turns made me who I am. They equipped me with so much street smarts practical knowledge of life that have allowed me to relate with and walk through the various trials those around me are facing. And I believe the same for you. I believe that you have experiences that are custom tailored to the calling that’s going to come forth from your life and impact an entire group of people you may not have been able to identify with otherwise- because you lived it. When you decide to become a student of your life, every lesson is to your advantage.
God isn’t operating on a social clock.
Do you know why God is not sitting on the throne worried about man’s “social clock”? Because He made time. He is holding the clock. In fact, Psalm 139:16 declares that God has seen every moment of your life laid out before a single day had passed. He is entirely aware of the timing of your life. He knows exactly when these events of your life will unfold. He is capable of redeeming your past. And He knows what’s right for you. When God has a plan for you, He doesn’t need to check the timelines of those around you for confirmation about what awesomeness He knows He’s doing with your life. And He’s not consulting your past to determine your future. Remember, His ways are not our ways. He says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). He knows better for you than any social clock could ever predict.
Let’s be honest. The real problem is we try and use these earthly “accomplishments” to define ourselves. If I only have this then it will prove (to myself and the world) that I am lovable, I am successful, I have an awesome life, I am worth something. Friend, you don’t have to prove anything. Don’t get caught up placing your security in an image for others (who don’t have to live with your choices) and stop giving people and circumstances the power to define the person you’re going to be. You are worthy of love, of belonging, of showing up for your life, regardless of the stage you’re in because God-given worth isn’t something you achieve- it’s something you carry.
Each season is sent to teach you something different.
It’s ironic how many of us want to grow in wisdom and depth but don’t want to go through the trials that take us there. As much as we despise the discomfort of trying seasons, they give birth to our greatest revelations about life, others and mostly about ourselves. And many times we need these foundational lessons in order to enter the next stage of our life from a healthier and more mature state of mind. It’s important that we have the character to carry our “elevation” or when more is placed into our hands. All I’m saying is, instead of rushing to get to the next stage of your life take the time to embrace what God is trying to teach you or where He is trying to grow you here and now. You may not get this type of time again for this season of your life. There is usually more than enough work to be done while in process of what we are believing God for next.
It’s okay to have ideals, just don’t let fear do the driving.
Like I said earlier, a lot of these desires we have for ourselves are not bad desires. I think they’re perfectly human. And if you have the desire in your heart to be married, have children, be further in your career or schooling, have a car to get around, etc., there is nothing wrong with having these goals! It’s when we are being driven by the wrong motivations that we might want to pause and reflect on what we’re really chasing; for example, approval, image, fulfilling insecurities, fear of timelines. The wrong motives often turn to desperation. Desperation rarely takes the full picture into account and can drive us into decisions in a worse situation than we began with.
However, on the flip side, it’s equally important to prepare and position yourself in light of your goals. Proverbs 4:26 encourages us to “carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established.” Put in that application to go back to school. Make yourself more available if you’re ready to meet someone. Save up for that car and hold yourself accountable. Talk to someone about what it would take financially to put money down or save up for a home. Grow through the process and continue to pray and use discernment if it’s right for you. Remember, faith without works is dead.
I hope for those of you that have been struggling with personal expectations, that this has given you some encouragement to keep moving forward. If anyone understands the anxieties of social standards, I have been there but every day I make the decision to hand those cares into God’s hands. And I pray that you’re able to release your worries to Him as well- because He has you. He always has and always will.