Life Won’t Begin at Your Next Milestone

3 problems with waiting for life to begin.

“This isn’t the real world,” they told us. High school teachers, grumpy old men at the grocery store, cynical professors and others like them assured us throughout childhood and adolescence that our real lives were waiting somewhere in the difficult future.

And while we may have not believed it was going to be harder, we did believe those younger years were prepping us for the day life would really take off. We grew with an expectancy of the next big thing; and as we progressed forward and arrived at each new milestone, we often experienced a subtle sense of disappointment rather than satisfaction.

At some point, many of us have looked around, shrugged our shoulders and thought, “this can’t be it. When I get married, finish school, buy a house, travel, then life will really begin. This is just a holding-zone, shaping me for something more.”

We reach our long awaited achievement and discover it doesn’t quite meet our expectations, so we set our eyes on the next step.

What did we think was going to change? Why do we become so disillusioned with life as it is currently? Ironically, it seems to be the realness of everyday that convinces us we have yet to see the adventure filled world we were made for. The dirty dishes, the laundry, the turkey sandwiches that look nothing like Instagram perfection, the repetitive motions we move through day-in and day-out trick our hearts into believing we aren’t there yet.

We expected to feel settled, not restless. We expected to have answers, not more questions. We expected a movie ending resolution, where the credits roll and it is assumed everything following just works. Instead, we find the messy, ordinary grind of everyday life.

Outside of general disappointment, there are three specific problems buried beneath the theory that our life begins when ___________________ (fill in with whatever event you’re waiting for):

“This can’t be it,” says more about what we value than it does about the life we’re living

We cannot be sincerely grateful for our lives if we are breathing in the anticipation that soon this will wrap up and make way for something more exciting.

If we view today as less than tomorrow, we choose to live in the imagined picture of a story that hasn’t happened, sacrificing joy and adventure that could be ours in the present. We get caught in the idea that this is just the green room, and if we plan well and press on, we’ll eventually walk out on the other side and a great narrative will unfold.

Perhaps without meaning to, we tell ourselves, the world around us and even God that this isn’t enough. It’s as if we took a look around and said, “no thanks, I’ll pass and wait to see what comes up down the road.”

We cannot be sincerely grateful for our lives if we are breathing in the anticipation that soon this will wrap up and make way for something more exciting. That doesn’t sound like thankfulness, and it looks nothing like contentment.

If we believe this is a waiting period, we will act like this is a waiting period

In short, we will waste it. A couple years after we got married, my husband and I packed up our stuff and moved into my parents’ house so we could finish school. Six months later, I gave birth to our first son.

For two and a half years, we lived in the bedroom across the hall from my mom and dad, raising a baby, working side jobs and attending class. I mentally entered that season as if we had paused reality and shuffled over to the sidebar of our own life. It squelched my motivation for growth, until I remembered that this was it. It only comes once, and if I miss it, I won’t get a second chance.

No matter what you would change about your current circumstances, there are advantages, freedoms and joys that will be gone in life’s next scene. Don’t miss today because you are imagining that tomorrow will be “better.”

If life begins when we reach a given milestone, what happens when that landmark is threatened?

If getting married makes your adult life official, what happens if your marriage falls apart or you lose your spouse 10 years in?

If a professional career and financial independence are the markers of a “real life,” what happens if you find yourself unemployed and living with extended family at age 40?

It’s not hard to see that a full and thrilling life must be based on something that cannot change, or else we are doomed to spend our days anxiously avoiding anything that might unravel our well-planned, self-made kingdoms.

Don’t miss today because you are imagining that tomorrow will be “better.”

Where It Begins

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It is true that these are years of preparation for the future, but that is no truer of my life today than it will be when I’m 60.

What can we learn now that will shape us for what comes next? Because truthfully, there’s a great deal to life we cannot prepare for. Rather, we must learn to lean into God as the difficult days come and trust, as Brennan Manning said in The Wisdom of Tenderness, “that the grace for the next step in the dance of life {is} already there, given.”

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” The bigger story of our life begins the moment we understand this truth. Life does not begin when you get married, land your dream job or board a plane to travel the world. It is found in the beautiful, powerful love of Christ, which changes us in the midst of all circumstances, especially the ones we find most difficult. We need only be willing.

Make plans. Look forward to the future. Choose to be genuinely grateful for your story as it is today. And be transformed by the incredible love of Jesus—a love that offers fullness of life, soaked in adventure and infused with mystery.


Yvonne Ki


Yvonne Ki commented…

Thanks! I was wondering why my life felt like a big blur. An entire year is over and I dare you to ask me anything about it. Oh sure plenty of things have happened but what have I truly treasured in the moment?
I have just clipped the carrot off of the stick. Crunch…. Crunch

Cara Joyner


Cara Joyner replied to Yvonne Ki's comment

Great thoughts Yvonne! Thanks for sharing!



Lacey commented…

I am really grateful for this. Resonating...

Cara Joyner


Cara Joyner replied to Lacey's comment

Thanks Lacey! Hearing that it resonates is so encouraging, because it reminds me that we really are all being challenged in such similar ways. Thank you for sharing!

Dave Kleppan


Dave Kleppan commented…

Very true. Something I've struggled with the past few years, and God is always reminding me. . . Thanks.

Cara Joyner


Cara Joyner replied to Dave Kleppan's comment

Thanks Dave! It's definitely is a lesson He seems to speak to us again and again!

Eileen Hume


Eileen Hume commented…

I am in a time of transition, filled with big choices, but aren't we always. This article showed me some of my thinking flaws and encourages me to take a hold of God, his purpose,and move forward.

Cara Joyner


Cara Joyner replied to Eileen Hume's comment

Great thoughts Eileen! Thanks for sharing!



ML commented…

I can't stop reading and re-reading this! With each milestone - graduating high school, graduating college, getting married, having a baby - I waited for the a-ha! moment where I would have it all figured out and be supremely satisfied. It never came, and it still hasn't. Now as I wait for a house or the ability to stay at home, I have the same longing and high expectations. What a relief to know I can put it all away and find my satisfaction, purpose, and joy in Jesus Christ. All those milestones are good...but God is better.
I am SO thankful for you, Cara!

Cara Joyner


Cara Joyner replied to ML's comment

Love this! Thanks for sharing Megan! It's sounds like we are living very similar stories right now :-)

Alicia Anne Martin


Alicia Anne Martin replied to Cara Joyner's comment

Megan -- I also thank you for your response. An encouragement to me.

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