Free muffin, free coffee…but, just one question first

I found myself walking around the college campus center Friday with an enormous platter of chocolate chip muffins. Elly, my campus pastor colleague, accompanied me with a pitcher of hot coffee. “Free muffin?” we asked. “Who wants coffee?” There was just one catch. Students had to answer a question. “How do you want to live your life?” We weren’t just getting rid of mistakenly-ordered food and drinks, we were a mobile vocation reflection unit.

The question, “How do you want to live your life?” was a modest attempt to combat the “what” questions students get attacked with so often: What’s your major? What are your plans after graduation? What do you want to do when you grow up?

chocolate chip muffin 1Elly usually asked something like, “What brings your life joy?” We mixed-in other questions along the way, but those were our go-to conversation starters. Answer and you get a delicious chocolate chip muffin and a cup of coffee.

Looking back, I’m struck my how many students answered remarkably similarly. Many students responded to the how of my question with a simple, “I want to be happy.” Of course, that connected somewhat to Pastor Elly’s question. Happiness is a perfectly fine answer. After several in a row, however, I got to wondering…

I didn’t ever push it, but I sometimes thought: much of the messaging of contemporary culture suggests that buying things brings us happiness. Is that what you mean? Or, I pondered: happiness, as lovely as it is, is usually fleeting. What does lasting happiness look like?

Elly’s joy question, we hoped, went a bit deeper than simple Hallmark card happiness. The connotations of the word “joy” linger. Joy is a richer, deeper, more spiritual word. Many students cited “spending time with friends,” or just “my friends” as their source of joy. That’s not earth shattering, but it’s at least beyond the culture’s surface-level happiness-as-consumerism motif.

Several students (though definitely a minority) spoke in faith-related terms as they reached for their treats. One said he didn’t know the details, but he always wants to serve God fully and live a life of service to others.

As our basket of muffins and pitchers of coffee became lighter, I further reflected that 1) students were not used to answering questions of the nature we were asking and, 2) though the questions sometimes caught them a bit off-guard, they welcomed them. There was a hunger for more than muffins, a thirst for more than caffeine.

During one of our longer conversations, I noticed that a student working on her computer nearby took off her headphones to listen in. She was curious to hear how her classmates would answer — or what ridiculous questions a religion professor and campus pastor were asking. These were not the questions of Friday’s class exams, but they mattered nonetheless.

A few students turned the question around (they’re budding liberal artists, of course) and asked Pastor Elly and me the same questions. It was great to be able to answer truthfully.

I want to live my life like this: by asking deep questions, teaching quizzical souls, examining our assumptions, wondering what God is up to, serving our neighbors, and eating muffins and drinking coffee. It was a grand morning of vocation.

So, what brings you joy? How do you want to live your life? What vocational questions are you considering today? 

image by Knut Pettersen

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