A word for graduates, a lesson for all of us

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Graduation season is upon us. It’s that weird season of both endings and beginnings, of both tears and smiles, and of both sadness and excitement. I must admit that I teared up as I stood outside the field house and watched past students exit in their caps and gowns with their degrees in hand and their future before them. I remember these times in my own life vividly. I am not someone who likes change and yet graduation was such a tangible symbol of the previously unseen work poured into exams and assignments the previous four years. Each commencement was filled with such an intense mixture of bittersweet emotion – joy and pride at the accomplishment, excitement for what the future held, and sadness at having to leave the place I’d called home for so long. Some of my peers experienced only sweetness as the previous four years had not been as kind to them as it had been to me and the day it was all over with simply couldn’t come soon enough.

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It’s also the season of, “What are you doing after graduation?” A question dreaded by all but by none more than those who just don’t know yet. I guess I was one of the fortunate ones. I always had an answer to this question. But having an answer is much different than being confident in the direction the answer is taking you. And as I work with high school and college students, that’s the sentiment I hear expressed most often. Students ask me, “How am I supposed to know what to do when I don’t even know who I am?”

The field of psychology often talks about “identity development”. I’m more interested in character development than identity development. Identity isn’t developed, it’s discovered. Your identity has already been imprinted on your heart by God, your Father and Creator. It needs to be discovered because over time our identity is buried – buried by our own sins of greed and pride, buried by fear, buried by others’ expectations of us, buried by pain – just to name a few. In the midst of trying to discover my own identity, a professor told me, “Decide what you are passionate about. Identify a need in the world around you. Then find the point where those two intersect. There you will find your purpose and calling in life.”

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Those wise words changed my life. I began to realize that my passions and preferences are part of what makes me uniquely me. And it is true of you as well… follow your dreams as they are likely God given! So often fear and insecurity cause us to make practical choices, the safe choices, but not always the God-ordained choices. We follow our head and our fear instead of our heart and God’s lead. And we are left uninspired and unfulfilled as a result.

So to any recent or future graduates longing to uncover your identity and God’s plan (or really anyone experiencing a holy discontentment with their life), may I urge you to first be bold and courageous. Forget convention and do not give into fear. Stop worrying about what you are “supposed” to do and focus only on what God is calling you to do. Want to know your true identity? Ask the Creator. He knows each and every detail of every masterpiece He’s ever made. He knows how to uncover the places that have been covered. He knows how to make the dark areas part of the beautiful whole. He knows how to make your heart sing and soar. He knows you inside and out and if you trust Him and follow Him, you’ll not only discover your own God given identity, but you’ll also find God.

“I love those who love me,
    and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17 NIV

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Throwback to graduation from Fuller in 2008. Finally, Dr. Cleveland, YES!

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