Graduation season has come and gone. Diplomas have been distributed, caps tossed high, and all manner of raucous celebrations have ensued. Hooray! The ordeal is done and we are now approved members of the inteligencia. Let the good times roll. But before our graduates rush headlong into life, allow me the opportunity to offer a non-traditional graduation address. No, I was not invited to present these thoughts to any graduating body (I’m quite sure it was a scheduling mishap), but I am not bitter about the oversight! No, not at all! (Alas, he protesteth too much).
Herewith my wise counsel to all graduates:
1. Listen to your heart, but don’t always obey it.
Our heart is the source of all passions and impulses, and from it flows feelings that are incredibly strong and persuasive. If 2013 showed any similarity to previous years, graduating classes have been told to follow their heart. I disagree. In fact, I think this is spectacularly bad advice. By all means, listen to your heart since it echoes the condition of your soul, but don’t offer it slavish obedience. Many impulses, maybe most, are really terrible ideas (Jer. 17:9). Test your passions by God’s word. Give ear to your heart, and obedience to God.
2. Hold your dreams loosely.
If you insist on “following your dreams” I fear that you will shortchange yourself. Honestly, too many of our early dreams are borrowed aspirations. We covet someone else’s life and choose it as a pattern for our own. But God’s will for our lives is seldom as we imagined in our youth, and for that we should be grateful. His generosity is often shown in that he does not give us what we hope for but something vastly better. By all means, have aspirations, but hold them loosely so that there is no loss if God takes them from you. “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” (Jer. 10:23)
3. Be a good follower before you try to lead.
The value and importance of good leadership is near impossible to overstate. Graduates should seek to hone their skills in this area so that their generation is well led, and the best way to do this is to apprentice yourself to a good leader. Being young comes with great enthusiasm (a wonderful thing) and an equal portion of certainty (less wonderful). Discipline yourself to listen and learn. You will never persuade others to follow you if you have steadfastly refused to follow another. Humble yourself to learn from the previous generation even if you are suspicious of how they managed society. The best leaders start by following well.
4. Start small and grow deep.
The world is in a constant state of flux with things changing at an incredible pace. You may have been encouraged to be a directing force in this change, but before you assume the heroic task of changing the world, take a moment to consider scale and time. The task before every generation is overwhelming and those who succumb to utopianism or triumphalism are going to become discouraged. A better effort than your parents will not rid the world of sin and suffering. This is not to say that you should grow passive, but I am advising patience. Take small steps that have a sustaining impact and over time you will be used by God to bless others.
So there you have it—a comprehensive repudiation of what most graduates have heard this month of May. I am well on my way to becoming a contrarian or a curmudgeon (or both).