My youngest son will graduate from Eighth Grade this week in Kodiak. (Three cheers!) My fourth child graduated from college last weekend in California. O Happy Day! We froze. It was cloudy, cold and rainy, fantastic weather for wild fires, but not for open-air graduations, California clothes and open-toed sandals. The faculty marched out in procession wearing those cheap clear rain ponchos over their elegant regalia. We huddled under a blanket. We were miserable. But we were thrilled.
(And weren't you little just yesterday, son??)
We celebrated the whole weekend, and not just my son's completion, but his wonderful girlfriend's and my other son's girlfriend's graduation. I was so proud of them all. It was a weekend of worship and inspiration. A time of calling, dreaming and commissioning to go out into the world as leaders and servants. All good. All Biblical. A beautiful and necessary upending of a rival dream, the American Dream, which has come to mean riches, power, total personal freedom, your own reality show and a million followers on Twitter.
BUT. In this season of graduations, I get weary sometimes. We Christians have created a parallel dream with, paradoxically, it's own emphasis on power, greatness and success: Every student is charged unendingly with "Change the World!" "Make a Difference!" My son's university did not overly indulge in this, but the Christian world as a whole overspeaks, over-guilts, (and over-asks for money) nearly every graduation season. May I offer my own hopes and suggestions for new graduates?
7 Reasons Not to Change the World (Yet)
1. If you grew up in America, recognize how big the world is and how little you know of it. Get out and experience some of it before you try to change it. Leave your comfortable bed and safe neighborhood and hang out on the other side of the tracks, on the other side of the world for awhile. Live on $10 a day in Laos. Volunteer in an orphanage in Indonesia or at a homeless shelter in Houston.
2. When you go out into the world don’t call it “missions” and spend all your time and energy convincing people to give you money rather than working and raising your own funds. Yes, dedicate your experience to the Lord, but remember, this is your trip, your travel, and while you may indeed help others, the main beneficiary here is you. Which is fine. Just don't ask others to pay for it.
3. Yes, go out and love the stranger, but how will you love the stranger if you don't love your own family first? Start your new life and new mission right at home. Be kind and show gratitude to your siblings, your parents, your teachers, to all who have invested in you and suffered through your growing pains and rebellions. If you're not able to do this yet, you're not ready to go anywhere. You will not successfully love the stranger without learning to love your real "neighbors" first. (Thank you for doing this, Elisha!)
4. Consider your diploma a L.H.M. degree: a degree in Listening, Humility and Mercy. Whatever else you have learned, surely you have learned how little you actually know. Those of us who have been around for awhile, with other degrees behind our name, have learned that this is the only degree that counts. Practice your L.H.M. skills often: Speak to many kinds of people. Read a lot. Keep asking questions. Be compassionate to all. When you do this, you'll find the world is better and smarter than you knew.
5. Be an Apprentice. The most valuable skill you have gained in school is the ability to learn. Now, keep learning. Rather than seeking immediate power, position and paycheck, look for a master in your field who will mentor you. And no matter how obscure or menial your job, invest it with diligence and love, as if you were serving God himself (which you are). Be the kind of worker who honors his boss, who respects his co-workers, who devotes himself to the success of others. You won’t change the world: just maybe your workplace.
6. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, but resist the culture of self-fascination. I know you've taken several personality tests since they are often required in college. But don't be fooled by the impressive names, numbers and labels every test-taker receives. Don't keep yourself in that box. And don't mistake your "score" for achievement. The purpose of knowing yourself is not to "know yourself" but to "grow yourself" into a better self. Exercise your strengths and please address your weaknesses. If you can change and strengthen yourself, maybe you'll have a shot at some bigger piece of the world later.
7. Give up on “greatness” and aim instead for Goodness. Yes, a few men and women through the ages have changed the course of history, but the best ones did not consider themselves “great” when they were doing it. In the moments they are most known for, they often labored in obscurity and mostly tried to do what was good and right. They suffered. They paid a heavy price. But they didn’t give up, even when no one was tweeting or instagramming their efforts. Now more than ever we need leaders committed to goodness rather than greatness.
Contrary to a well-known graduation speech, you are wonderful and special—and so is everyone else. Your singularity is what you share with the rest of humanity, which entitles you to serve these wondrous others, and to do it as beautifully as only you can. Go to it, then! And God WILL be with you!
What graduation advice did I miss?
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And may I recommend a book to you? A brand new book just for this season: Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life by some very wise people, including Byron Borger and Richard Mouw.