When I first decided to go into campus ministry, it was because I thought people do a lot of the "becoming who they're going to be" in college. A lot of life decisions are made, for good or bad. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to bring Jesus into the lives of those who hadn't met Him, and I wanted to help those who already had.
I still think college is a time of great change and figuring out who you are and all that, but it's not the reason I'm still in campus ministry.
I'm here because of what people face after college: life, death, joy, pain, laughter & sorrow. Life can be exactly what you wanted, but it can also knock your knees out from underneath you, leaving you flat on your back and wondering, "How did I get here?" Usually it's a bit of both.
I'm convinced that all of that, all of life, is best lived surrendered to Jesus, and I'd like to do what I can to help people figure that out sooner rather than later.
So every graduation season I feel a bit emotional, because I'm reminded of why I'm doing this, and if I could sit down with every graduate I know, this is what I would tell them:
Find your people.
How can I say this casually? This is a non-negotiable. No matter what our culture tries to feed you, you cannot conquer life by yourself. No one is that cool. No one.
Though life after college is not an episode of Friends, there is a reason that show resonates with so many.
Find a group of people that are committed to loving you in your crappiest moments, because you will probably have more than a few of them; people who will gracefully question your decision making skills; people that know you well enough to ask the questions that need to be asked; people worth listening to when it comes to seeking advice about things like who you should marry, if you should move to a different city for that job opportunity, and if you should buy a house or a car or get that tattoo; most importantly, people you can be brave enough to ask for help in your weakest moments. Don't worry, you'll know what I'm talking about when it happens, because everything in you will desire to wall up and figure it out by yourself.
Life after college is not an episode of Friends because what I'm talking about is hard. This involves getting hurt, sometimes badly. It involves forgiveness, and awkwardness, and stumbling over your words, and clumsily loving other human beings. There are times you may wound or be wounded and a small voice says, "I don't really know if this is worth it."
It is worth it.
Separate your identity from your calling, and find both.
A year from now, you might be working at Starbucks. You might find yourself living at home with your parents, working whatever job you could find because your deferment is up on your student loans.
You may find yourself in your dream job, and life is exactly where you wanted it to be. You may find yourself in your dream job but still feel empty and restless when you lay down at night. Who knows, no one does because you're not there yet.
Your worth does not lay in whatever fills your waking hours. It does not lay in whatever company's name is on your paycheck. It does not lay in the accolades of man, awards you receive, and your accomplishments. It certainly does not lay in the lack of these things. It lays in the heart of God, and His love for you.
That being said, figuring out the thing which fills you with life, even when it's at its absolute hardest, is a search that is worth your time, energy, and sacrifice. Figure out what you are called to do, but hold in an open hand whatever that calling may be. Understand that it may not look like you thought, and there may be a season that you're not pursuing your calling. This bears no weight on your worth as a human being.
Choose sacrifice over comfort.
I can say almost absolutely, because of the culture we live in, to not actively fight against materialism and escapism is to succumb to it.
It seems awkward to me, to get all stirred up about things like Netflix and Facebook, but I've seen the horrifying amount of opportunities in our world for people to escape so they don't have to deal with life, and it makes me angry.
I've done it. I am doing it. It is a daily struggle for me to not do it.
Please hear me say that there are many things that offer comfort that are not inherently evil. I totally have a Facebook profile and my husband and I just finished watching Parks & Rec through for the second time on Amazon Prime.
I think I feel this so passionately because in my own life, and in the life of many around me, I have seen so much potential wasted.
I see mighty hearts that are capable of loving people in a way that makes me weep, I see courage the likes that this world hasn't experienced in a long time, I see people that carry peace with them and wrap it around every body in the room as if this was something as easy as breathing.
These are not exaggerations. These are gifts that I've witnessed, and I've seen myself, and people with gifts like these, choose a TV show over loving someone who needs it. Choose what is easy over what is hard.
I want to emphasize that periodically checking out - whatever that looks like - so that you can take a break from people is a healthy thing to do. We all need breaks, or we'd crash and burn.
But don't choose comfort over sacrifice. The world needs human beings who bring their potent gifts of healing to hard situations, who are capable of engaging in hard things way more than it needs people who know what happened last week on Grey's.
Learn how to grieve disappointment.
This has recently been added to my prayer because it is something I have just begun learning. This is something people talk about a lot, but you can't tangibly understand it until you've experienced it.
Life is hard. There will be small disappointments and big ones. There will be parties cancelled because of weather and there will be deaths of those you love. Learn how to weep, learn how to mourn, and learn how to do this in a safe community.
The price of not grieving is cynicism or callousness, which leads - in my opinion - to an unaffected heart.
"The unaffected heart is one of the dark mysteries of human existence. It beats dispassionately in human beings with lazy minds, listless attitudes, unused talents, and buried hopes.... Years wasted in vain regrets, energies dissipated in haphazard relationships and projects, emotions blunted, passive before whatever experiences the day brings, they are like snoring sleepers who resent having their peace disturbed. Their existential mistrust of God, the world, and even themselves underlies their inability to make a passionate commitment to anyone or anything." - Brennan Manning
Ahead of you is so much. I'm only six years in front of you and there are times it feels like an eternity has passed since sitting in that auditorium, because of how much life can be squeezed out of each day.
Some days that life will be joy and laughter and song and you will go to sleep thinking, "What is this beauty that I've been allowed to witness?" Some days it will feel like the life is being squeezed out of you. You'll be sucker-punched, left empty, disillusionment will be your bed fellow. David describes it in the Psalms:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.
At the end of each day, no matter what it brings, will be Jesus. You will find Him among your people, He will secure your identity and communicate your calling, He has lived our chief example of what it looks like to choose sacrifice over comfort, and He will weep with you - in mourning and joy.
It is important to understand that your life may not fall apart if you don't choose Jesus over all else. This is the truth: there are many, many people who live life and don't choose Jesus. Their lives are full of good things, and often they experience less hardship than those who do choose Jesus.
So the point of choosing Him is not a guarantee against pain. It's not a get out of jail free card, in fact in many places it is literally quite the opposite.
Choose Christ because He is real and He is the source of everything that is real. Even those who don't choose Christ experience real goodness, and real love, and real life because God is a good God and extends us the grace of experiencing Him during our time on earth.
The difference is, those that never choose Him will never understand where the real things they have come from, and when things disappoint or break down or are lost, as they are prone to do, they are without anchor.
May you find your people.
May you understand the difference between your identity and your calling, and find both.
May you choose sacrifice over comfort.
May you learn how to grieve well.
And may you choose Jesus above all things.