The month of May always gets me right in the feels. Mother’s day is sandwiched between multiple graduation celebrations in which we watch horribly sad video montages of children growing up in old photos, and I am forced to reflect on how few years I have left with my children at home😭. While I hate the ugly cry face and fruitless search for a tissue in my purse, as is often the case, reflection is good. “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Being sad forces you think about unpleasant things, and right-thinking is good. So, I’ve been reflecting on graduates and advice I’d like to give my children before they graduate high school.
First, I would tell them to simply be ready for whatever God has in store. So many graduates seem to fall into the lie that they need to “search their souls” to “find themselves”, and, in so doing, they will realize the one true and perfect path to follow for their futures. They mull over where to go to college, if they should go to college, and what career path to choose when (or if) they grow up. In my experience, this is bupkis. In my adult life, I can honestly say that my plans have almost never panned out. From where to go to college, to career choices, to where to live, to family planning, my early ideals did not come to fruition. And I am grateful. So. Very. Grateful. Shelley Hazel – the successful speech-language pathologist with four kids and a really nice house somewhere not too far from Southeast Missouri – is probably a great person, but she is not me. I am the preacher’s wife with two Christian kids in deep South Georgia who is learning to be a music and middle school ELA teacher. I do not have it all figured out, “but by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
So, you want to be a _____. Great! Go for it. Study. Plan. Prepare. But know that if you are like the vast majority of adults in this world, it won’t go as planned. You will fail. You will lose a job or not get offered a job or decide to change jobs. The money, timing, people, house, etc… won’t be right. You’ll second guess EVERY decision. At some point, everything in your life will not seem right. And you’ll be okay. Why? Because “there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). The path you choose is highly unlikely to be your “perfect path” in life. Don’t give up; just be ready to follow the path God gives you.
Being prepared for the unexpected in life leads to my second piece of advice which is to let the Lord be your guide. Life is tricky, often hard, and seldom what you expect. The road less traveled is the one that leads you closer to God (Matthew 7:13-14). When life throws you a curveball and you fail at college, lose your job, or don’t get the job offer you were really banking on, if you don’t have the Lord as your anchor, your ship will flounder or capsize or even sink. People whose lives are focused on God do not find themselves shaken to the point where they cannot recover because we know that He is with us. As Christians “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). If He brought you to it, He’ll lead you through it; and He will use it for His glory if you let Him.
Finally, I want my children and all graduates to know that true success is living your life and going to heaven; ANYTHING ELSE IS FAILURE. If you cured cancer but neglected God, then you failed at life. If you won the Nobel Peace Prize for your contributions to humanity in your field but contributed nothing to the cause of Christ, then you just failed at life. If you earn the title of President of the United States but have never been called “Christian”, then you have failed. If you are a wealthy philanthropist who spends your days sharing your money with hundreds of noble charities but never share the love of Christ with one soul, then you are a big failure. A time is coming and already is here when your GPA and the cords you wear at graduation mean nothing. You will face your Maker and Judge, and one thing will matter: is your name written in His book (Revelation 3:5)? Did you live for Him or in spite of Him? What you did in this life that glorified yourself will be meaningless in comparison to what you did to glorify Him. My own children, please hear me when I tell you that, although you are so smart and do so well in school, I would trade any worldly success you have for you to walk humbly with your Lord and be kind and compassionate to the people who surround you.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:35-38).
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Perfect is a myth. Follow God and trust Him enough to roll with what He gives you. Go and learn how to be a computer scientist or car salesman or whatever you want to be. Enjoy the moments and experiences God is giving you; He will use them someday. And have faith in God when things don’t turn out as you expected; He will use that, too. I could continue to offer advice about possessions, wealth and contentment, but I’ll save that for when you graduate college😉. For now, I want you to be convicted to pursue God first in all that you do in order to be a true success in this life and the next; the rest will fall into place.
I know everyone wants his or her moment to shine. At graduation, I hope you are a shining star to your friends and family who have come to celebrate your accomplishments and encourage you in your future pursuits. God calls us to shine in a different way. He says we ought to be beacons of light in a dark world, cities set on hills that cannot be hidden, and bright lamps in stands clearly seen by all who come near us (Matthew 5:14-15). Most of all, we are called to “Let [our] light shine before men in such a way that they may see [our] good works, and glorify [our] Father who is in heaven” (v16). Go out and glorify God with your lives, graduates of 2019; I am rooting for you!