’Tis the season of graduations. Society recognizes graduation as an important transition in the lives of young people and so we ritualize the event with special ceremonies. At a typical ceremony young people hear various words of encouragement: A whole world of opportunity lies before you. Pursue your passions and dreams. Become whatever you want to be.
The subtext of such comments is that our lives are in our own hands and we are free to do with them as we wish. Some graduation comments suggest that joy and fulfillment come from pursuing our personal desires and dreams, especially dreams focussed on a well-paying career that will provide all the trappings of the upwardly mobile consumerist lifestyle that we should supposedly aspire to.
As congregations, we ought to challenge our young people with a counter-vision. Graduation provides an opportunity to bless them as they transition to a new stage of life and to speak important words into their lives that go far beyond what they are likely to hear from others. A simple ritual during Sunday worship could introduce graduating students, bless them in God’s name, pray for their physical and spiritual well-being, and challenge them to live alternatively. Here are six basic challenges for our graduates:
- This time of transition is an opportunity to take stock of your life and ask questions: What are my deepest life commitments? What are my life goals? What kind of person do I want to become?
- Remember that your life is not your own, but is a precious gift from God. Live every day and make every decision remembering this basic fact.
- The purpose of your life is not to pursue your own dreams. Your purpose is to discern how to utilize your gifts, abilities and interests to pursue God’s dream for the world.
- Keep Jesus at the centre of your life. In the world of work, higher education and social media, you will encounter many influences that try to push Jesus out of your life. Remember that Jesus is the way to fullness of life.
- A world of opportunity stands before you, but not all of life’s options lead in healthy directions. Some of the dreams that our world seeks to entice you with are nightmares that will harm you, others and God’s world. Learn to be discerning.
- Wherever life’s journey takes you, stay connected to the church and God’s people. At times we will frustrate you with our pettiness and you will hear many voices proclaiming that the church is irrelevant and hypocritical. But we will care for you. We will remind you of God’s infinite love for you. We will discern with you which choices lead to fullness of life. We will welcome you home if you should stray. We “will hold the Christ light for you in the nighttime of your fear.”
Challenges like this may encourage all of us to take stock of our lives.
Dan Epp-Tiessen is a member of Mennonite Church Canada’s Faith and Life Committee.