Graduation is in the air, and David Brooks’ excellent article about the wrong-headed speeches he’s heard this graduation season is a great jumping-off point for a very important conversation. Brooks makes the important observation that today’s generation is entering a world of unemployment and an unprecedented convergence of challenges on several fronts. But, as Brooks notes, “College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.” In other words, having been raised in an educational zoo, today’s students are released into the “jungle” that is the real world. What skills are needed to navigate this transition?
The preponderance of graduation speeches all follow the same flow according to Brooks: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.” Of course the problem is that this mantra doesn’t work for anyone… Christian, or not so much. This is because the hyper-individualism that built the American dream is presently running on fumes, as the middle-class disappears, prisons overflow, human trafficking continues nearly unchecked, soil erodes, water tables decline, and on and on and on it goes. It’s not that there aren’t heart warming success stories here and there; but our commitment to follow our dreams and passions, and each of us following our own inner drummer hasn’t exactly gotten us closer to shalom. There are other options:
What if we follow our Lover, rather than our Passion?
In the book I’ve recently written, I share that I enjoy buffets because they’re all about me and my tastes. The problem, though, is that I never eat my veggies at buffets. Our consumerist world tries to convince us that life is buffet, and that we can customize our dream life through vocation, geography, trophy spouse (or idealized singleness), adventurous travel, etc. When we build our own lives, though, we’ll avoid the broccoli (or whatever it is that isn’t your thing – confession, commitment, servanthood, vulnerability, caring for the poor, using your spiritual gift). We think we’re building the best life, but it’s actually far from best, because we don’t know ‘the best’ – God does (see Ephesians 2). I didn’t know I’d enjoy teaching the Bible until I reluctantly said yes to a request that I teach a high school Sunday class. I might not be doing what I do today had I not said yes, but in NO WAY was teaching a passion, or ambition, or desire, or even a tug. It wasn’t on my radar – but it was on God’s. That’s why it’s more important to find your lover than your passion. Find your lover, and you’ll find your passion!
Brooks says, “The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.” Sacred commitments is language you don’t hear often in the NY Times, but it’s the perfect phrase. One’s twenties is a time of making sacred commitments. When I began to discover my calling as a Bible teacher, I remember having a sense that various fruits of my life were ripening at the same time: Bible teacher, conductor, composer, athlete/coach. There was this dawning realization that I couldn’t pursue excellence in them all, that I needed to settle down. That settling extended to the realm of relationships as I married, and has eventually extended to a commitment to place and community as well. The sooner we learn to make commitments: relationship/skills and gifts community – the richer our life becomes.
What if we seek, not to find ourselves, but to lose ourselves in something greater than our survival or enjoying our appetites?
Brooks: “The graduates are also told to pursue happiness and joy. But, of course, when you read a biography of someone you admire, it’s rarely the things that made them happy that compel your admiration. It’s the things they did to court unhappiness — the things they did that were arduous and miserable, which sometimes cost them friends and aroused hatred.” The lives that are “out in front” beckoning me to live on a higher plane lived recklessly. Not stupidly – they were acting with wisdom and bold conviction. They were reckless in the sense that they put their lives on the line. They shot the moon. Whether they made headlines or lived anonymously, they lived beyond themselves. Jesus said a lot about this, and it was His way of saying that we are at our best when we’re aligned with His agenda, rather than pursuing our own.
Graduations will soon be over, but every year I revisit these themes and find the challenge of each new generation to be a challenge not only for them but for me. Congrats to grads! And my you find reality, intimacy, and joy with the Lover of your soul – because that’s the foundation.