“I want it all, I want it now”
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
In their song, “I Want It All,” the rock band Queen famously described the outrageous desire to want it all and want it now as characteristic of the cries and dreams of youth. Empirically speaking, Queen is right. I and my co-authors’ Gallup-conducted poll regarding how college students think about purpose confirmed this outlook. Over ninety percent agreed that the purpose of their life is “to experience life to the fullest.”1 It was also the least disagreed with life purpose (only 1.6% disagreed with it).
Actually, this quality is one of the things I love about college students. The great thing is you do not have to teach either babies or college students to desire. It comes naturally and is only misdirected or pounded out by the fallen world (I John 2:16).
That’s why I contend we should not tell students to desire less. The tragedy of adulthood is what most of you recognize about many adults in your lives. These adults made choices that compromised their youthful idealism and chose lesser goods—often safety and comfort. The adults then became disillusioned and recognized they could not have it all, but in the process simply choose the easy way and reduced their desires or settled for lower-level priorities. They end up becoming professional cynics and complainers. You as students should ask yourself the question posed by the famous pop song, “The Freshman“: “What made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise?”
Sadly, the church sometimes adds to this approach. Often, students are taught to repress and not direct desire. This is a strand of Christian thought that misinterprets Phil 4:12 as involving the reduction of desire. Being content is not hard if you have few desires. Getting rid of desire and seeing it as the source of suffering is the Buddhist approach to life, but it is not Christian.
To be Christian is to encourage desires and not pour cold water on them. Indeed, Christians should want it all, and they should want it now. After all, the first simple request that Jesus told us to pray is outrageous. We should pray to God for it all—God’s kingdom and way of doing things—to be manifest on earth (Mt. 6:10). We are told to pray for heaven on earth. That is not a small desire or request. Jesus told us to want and pray for it all and pray for it to now. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, “that God may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith” (II Thes. 1:11b, italics added).
I remember having lunch with a group of students and hearing them describe their future dreams. One young lady wanted to be married and live in San Antonio and be close to the beach (I pointed out that San Antonio is a bit far from the beach, but that didn’t stop her dreaming). She planned to have numerous kids, and she looked forward to being a creative mom that starts all kinds of wonderful family traditions (something her non-Christian family did not do for her while she was growing up). She also wanted to serve students in a job in higher education. On top of this, she talked about staying in touch with good friends and being a great friend. I loved her enthusiasm and could not help but smile with joy. Being around students with these kinds of wonderful passions and dreams are why college students are so delightful to teach. They have so many desires for goodness.
Still, I could not help but think, “I hope you have all that, but the key is figuring out how to prioritize it all.” You see, one of the toughest things about the good or flourishing life in this present world is that you must make challenging choices regarding which identities you choose to prioritize and nurture. After becoming a wife and mother, one high-achieving woman wrote an essay entitled, “Why Women Can’t Have It All.”2 Actually, the same article could be written by a young father for men. There is nothing like having children to make you realize you have to make tough choices about what is important to you—but it is in those tough, prioritizing choices we find it all.
The rest of our Gallup survey demonstrates how students anticipate making these tough choices (see the results below).3 Our survey demonstrated students don’t want to become wealthy—not ultimately. Only 1 in 5 saw their purpose as making money. In fact, it was the most strongly disagreed with purpose (interestingly, the second most opposed purpose was “Serve God or a higher power”).
Instead, we found American students prioritize wanting to be happy, helping others, building families and friendships, making the world a better place—all while being comfortable. Based on this survey, and our own qualitative research to unpack these purposes, the key problem for college students is how they prioritize it all.
In other words, your desires need sanctification and redirection–not repression. In this respect, the first step toward sanctified Christian desire involves developing a deeper desire for God and God’s kingdom. Again, if you do not hunger and thirst more for God and God’s kingdom than when you entered college, your Christian university or Christian community in college failed you. Or perhaps your heart has grown cold. Second, when you long for God’s kingdom you should develop a tremendous frustration with sin and evil on earth If you have not graduated with a deeper frustration with sin or evil, either your Christian university failed you, or you must ask questions about whether your heart is hard or your conscience seared (I Tim. 4:2).
Unfortunately, Christian educators may have taught you only to desire limited, uninspiring ends. Perhaps faculty, student affairs staff, or professors encouraged you to be sexually abstinent or antiracist. These are such shallow ends for Christian youth. Now, hear me correctly. I am not saying these are bad. They are simply basic beginnings to a robust Christian vision and telos for the topic at hand (unless one chooses celibacy in the case of singleness—but in that case abstinence is still not the end).
We as educators should teach Christian students to want awesome sex (which social science research shows and Christianity teaches is to be found in loving, lasting marriages) and loving, reconciled racial relationships (and not simply relationships devoid of racism or perhaps indifferent about race). In fact, if one listens to the cry of the oppressed to the powerful throughout Scripture, indifference is not the response God wants from us (e.g., think of the unjust judge—Luke 18:2). You should want it all—in the most fulsome version and in the right order.
Only then, can one appreciate what Paul says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:12b-13). Only through prayer and Christ’s strength can you find contentment amid your powerful and properly ordered desire to love God, create good things and relationships, to join with Christ in overcoming evil, to work for the redemption achieved through Christ to be manifest fully throughout the world, and to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Then, you can sing with Queen that you’re not a person “for compromise…and living lies.” You’re directing all your fulsome desires for wanting God and God’s Kingdom. And you pray and act for it now.
- See also Perry L. Glanzer, Jonathan P. Hill, and Byron R. Johnson, The Quest for Purpose: The Collegiate Search for a Meaningful Life. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2017
- Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” accessed July 3, 2018,https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
- Glanzer et al., The Quest for Purpose; See also Perry L. Glanzer, Jonathan P. Hill, & Jessica A. Robinson, “Emerging Adults’ Conceptions of Purpose and the Good Life: A Classification and Comparison,” Youth & Society 50, 6 (2018): 715–733. Doi: 10.1177/0044118X1560291.