When I first saw it, I was upset and disappointed. Across the road from the episcopal residence in Clive, preparation for a new subdivision is underway. Over the past several months, Gary and I have watched as a mile stretch of road has been increased from two to four lanes, with a wide median strip, sidewalks on both sides, and dozens of newly planted trees.
The day we used the sidewalk for the first time, however, I noticed that someone had decided to leave their mark by walking on the wet cement with a dog. I am sure the individual thought it was funny, but the reality is that this sidewalk will be forever marred by intentional footprints and pawprints.
Over this past Memorial Day weekend, as I walked the sidewalk, I remembered the legacy those who have gone before me whose footprints I hope to emulate in my own life. I also walked figuratively with those who are celebrating the joy of graduations, even in the midst of COVID-19. I have been deeply moved by the care and support given to our high school and college graduates, who have not been able to go through normal graduation ceremonies or enjoy graduation parties. At the same time, schools, family, and friends and been inventive and playful by posting congratulatory signs in front yards and organizing car caravans to drive by homes.
As I ponder this tender time of graduations in the midst of COVID-19, four words come to mind that I hope for each graduate as they live out God’s call in their professional as well as personal life. I invite you to forward this blog on to those you know who are graduating.
The first word I hope for you is responsibility. “Responsibility” comes from the Latin root, respondere, which means “to promise back.” I prefer to divide the word into two parts, “response” and “ability.” Do you remember the scripture from Luke 12:48, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse in The Message in an easy way, “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”
The ability to respond to the needs of our world is a gift of God. You have been given far greater privileges and opportunities than most young adults in our world. What is your “response ability” to look beyond yourself and act for the common good of our planet, advocate on behalf of those afflicted by war, poverty, disease, and be a catalyst for systemic change?
The second word I hope for you is wonder. When our son was five years old, we were lying outside looking at the stars, and he said, “It looks like God took a big sheet of paper and poked holes in it. Then God shined light through it and made the stars!”
One of my favorite quotes comes from E.B. White, “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.” We adults are often pretty serious and intense and need to lighten up. When I see you laugh, joke around, enjoy your friends, and have fun, you teach me to savor the world at the same time as I seek to save it. Never lose your sense of wonder and joy. Keep learning. Keep searching. Love life. Enjoy every minute.
The third word I hope for you is persistence. Each of you understands persistence because you are either heading for college or graduate school, or you are looking for a job. It can be demoralizing to be ready to enter the work world as an adult but have to spend day after day networking and searching for employment opportunities, especially during the time of COVID-19. I imagine your parents told you from day one that a good education was the key to finding meaningful work.
Be assured that you will eventually find a job. But also know that this will not be the only time you are tested in life. Rejection and failure are as common as affirmation and success. I wish for you a mental toughness that takes intelligent risks and bold action and never gives up. Remember that nothing worthwhile comes easily.
You may think this odd, but I hope that you can embrace adversity when it comes. May you choose to gain wisdom through the struggle, for life is a constant process of growth, stretching, death, and rebirth. What will help you move through the difficult times is a supportive network of family and friends and the knowledge that God journeys with you and loves you no matter what. Doors that close can open up new worlds that help us to grow stronger and more confident. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who pointed out, “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” Remember the God who poked holes through the dark with the light.
The fourth word I hope for you is integrity. The root word for integrity comes from the Latin word integritas (integer), which means whole, complete, or undivided. If your inner and outer lives are integrated, you will never act in a way that is contrary to the spiritual truths you have been taught and know about yourself.
The characteristics of an integrated life are honesty, compassion, fairness, and the courage to find your own voice in this world. I call it leading from the heart, which is nothing more than integrating the physical, relational, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your personality into a coherent whole.
Here are my top ten suggestions for leaving footprints that will change the world.
- Who you are is more important than what you do. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
- Discover your passion and let your dreams lead the way.
- Don’t neglect your inner life. Take time to reflect. Be self-aware.
- Don’t forget to listen to your heart when you have to make tough decisions.
- Remember, God loves you not because you are good but because God is good.
- Have the courage to do the right things, show compassion for the very least of God’s children, and resist injustice and oppression wherever you see it.
- Seek peaceful resolutions for every conflict in which you find yourself.
- Don’t get sucked into a lifestyle that does not ultimately satisfy. Money will never make you happy, but generosity will.
- If you hold on to anger and bitterness, you will only poison yourself. Forgive at all costs.
- Your mission in life? Be an imitator of the whole life of Jesus Christ.
You have seen and experienced the world. Now find your place in it.
You have discovered your voice. Now let it sing.
You know who created you. Now poke holes in the darkness and reflect God’s light.
What footsteps will you leave?