What’s next? I lost count of how many times I was asked this question in my final year.
It seemed like every other day a mate, lecturer, old family friend or stranger in the street would ask me. It’s a valid question. It’s often asked with good intentions to take an interest. However, hearing this question again and again as a 3rd-year student was tiring. I felt like I had to give an answer, one that was impressive and well thought through with a clear plan of action.
‘Surely at 21 I should know where I’m going!’
The truth was, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. There was no plan of action, I just wanted to complete my degree. Answering this question with ‘I don’t know’ didn't feel comfortable, it almost felt too honest, was it naïve? Was I unprepared and irresponsible? I thought to myself, ‘surely at 21 I should know where I’m going!’. As the crucial graduation transition approached, it didn’t feel OK to not know.
Second term began. I furiously tapped away at my keyboard applying to science-related jobs. I felt empowered, hopeful and excited. The prospect of securing a job post-graduation filled me with a sense of security. I knew I’d have something to say as the dreaded question continued internally and externally.
Teaching seemed like a good option. My brother was thriving teaching philosophy to sixth form students and my mum had a successful history in primary schools, so I went for it and began applying for PGCEs. With my family history and some interest in my subject, I thought I could give this a good go. It’s possible the tax-free bursary made applying that much easier! Long story short, I was offered a secondary Biology PGCE in London. What a relief! I had something! It was secure, financially stable and gave me something to talk about.
"Hearing that question was perhaps the most releasing and empowering moment of my life. God was participating with me in choosing my future."
I powered through the end of final year, rarely reflecting on what was to come; I just wanted to finish well. As exams finished and summer approached, I prepared to fly to Mozambique for two months of Bible school. I welcomed this adventure with open arms after the whirlwind of final year. A couple of weeks in I was sitting in the dust. Surrounded by this new experience of culture, away from the barrage of social media and choice, I heard the still small voice of God.
Paul, is this really what you want?
I was cut to the heart. I felt exposed and vulnerable yet also assured and held. Held by a father who knew what I needed from the beginning. My need to be affirmed and in control was silenced. My eyes were opened to see the intentions of my heart. It was the first helpful question I’d been asked about my future in months. It began a much deeper conversation, one that would heal and restore.
'Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!'
I reflected on the question and the answer was a resounding ‘No!’. I didn’t want to study teaching in London. That wasn’t my desire. I realised I had chosen a path in an attempt to meet a deeper desire, to be affirmed, secure, safe and at rest in my future. I’d rushed into a decision but it wasn’t too late. Grace has shown me that it’s never too late. Hearing that question was perhaps the most releasing and empowering moment of my life. God was participating with me in choosing my future. I soon felt completely at rest with cancelling my plans and continuing this conversation with father God. This moment marked a milestone in discovering my new creation, a son in the house of a perfect father.
I ended up walking a different path, an ancient path carved out before the foundation of the world, formed with the cry ‘It is finished!’. As I considered my future, God gave me answers about the past, about things that have been true from the beginning. About who he is and who I am. This leads me on to ask you, what questions are you being asked about your future? What questions are you asking yourself? As graduation approaches, it’s easy to grab life with both hands and take it upon ourselves to work out the next steps. Is God opening your eyes to see something deeper? It does matter what we do! But only if we discover who we are. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and hear the still small voice of God. Let’s pray.
You know my heart, the intentions of my heart
I believe you are the lord of my life
I trust you and hope in you
When I don’t know what to do or where to go, I look to you
Lead me in the way everlasting.