Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph is known in the Jewish Talmud as “Chief of the Sages” for his incisive wisdom. One afternoon he left his cottage to go into the village for some supplies. After finishing his errands, he accidentally took the wrong path home. It was night, and as he wandered, he heard a voice:
“Who are you? Why are you here?”
Akiba jumped in fright, realizing he had stumbled upon a Roman soldier-guard. He responded to the sentry’s inquiry with his own question:
“How much do they pay you to stand guard and ask those two questions?”
The sentry replied, “Five drachmas a week, sir.”
Akiba paused and then said, “Young man, I will double your pay if you come with me, stand guard at my cottage, and ask me those two questions each morning.”
You’ve heard it said that there’s no such thing as a bad question. That may be true. But I also know another truth: Some questions are more valuable than others. Akiba saw the value of a good question; two in fact. When I think about the best questions of life, I agree with Akiba…and add another.
1. Who are you?
2. Why are you here?
3. Where are you going?
Identity. Purpose. Direction. These are the questions that get to the essence of life. All other questions are but tributaries that feed these three mighty rivers. They begin in our head, and make the windy and complex journey through our heart and into our soul.
Back track the most frustrating parts of your days, and you’ll eventually find your way to these questions. To lean into your twenties is to lean into these questions. But when you do, lean with love. Love for yourself. Love for God. Love for others. For the best questions are the most vulnerable places, and often we can be our own worst critics.
To keep from tripping over yourself, I encourage you to reach out to someone who you trust dearly; a friend who knows your hopes and fears and stewards them well. If you’re struggling to make sense of the truths and the lies that swirl among these questions, ask another:
1. Who do you believe I am?
2. What do you think I’m here for?
3. Where do you see my life going?
That is a conversation worth at least 10 drachmas.