The following is adapted from the Commencement Address given by Associate Dean of Students Kathleen Doll at Columbia’s graduation ceremony on April 23, 2016.
You have made it.
You are graduating!
You are ready to take on the world!
Now, at this point, many people might tell you:
Go live your dreams!
Change the world!
Believe in yourself!
We all want to hear those words. We want to know we have untapped potential, that we are capable, that we will make a difference.
And while these words are true, I hope as graduates of Columbia Bible College, you might stop and consider that these words aren’t enough to convey the full story ahead of you. They lack the context of the Spirit’s leading, the inevitable roadblocks along the way, and the sacrifice required to pursue vision.
So what happens when you go to live your dreams, and the job you thought was made for you is given to someone else?
What happens when you want to change the world, but no one seems to be paying attention?
What happens when raising a family isn’t as glamorous as you thought, or you find yourself alone in a new town, or you don’t end up marrying the person you believed was your soul mate…and you start questioning whether you should actually believe in yourself?!
What do you do when life doesn’t turn out as you expected?
Where do you go when you start thinking you’ve failed?
A few months ago, when I received the invitation to be your commencement speaker, I started asking Jesus what I might share with you. The results of those prayers found me on Facebook, of all places (rest assured, I was not procrastinating…), and I messaged a number of friends who graduated with me from Columbia.
I asked these friends: “What can Jesus teach us when life doesn’t look like what you pictured, and what has failure taught you in the last 12 years?”
Their responses evoked memories of career decisions, team work, family journeys: it was a collective testimony of how Jesus has taught, redirected, affirmed, and the stories conveyed a blend of both pain and deep joy. It is their responses that have shaped what I share with you today.
And so, before I go any further, I want you to picture 8 other people beside me: A teacher, a property manager, a job search advisor, a youth pastor, a senior pastor, and 3 stay-at-home moms, whose roles involve farming, teaching, additional child care, and much more.
These are my friends whom I graduated with 12 years ago. I am thankful to stand before you as a representative of those who have journeyed ahead of you, honoured to share our collective story.
So…back to the question: what do you do when life doesn’t turn out as expected?
From what my friends and I have shared in our dialogue, 5 key points have emerged.
The first encouragement: STAY HUMBLE
Throughout Scripture we see how insistent God is that pride is our downfall. He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. When pride is present, we are fooled into believing we don’t need God. Micah 6:8 urges us to act justly and love mercy. In this next season of your life, what does that look like?
My friend Jeremy urges you from his own experience:
“Stay humble. Your learning has not ended, but has only just begun…
I thought I knew it all. I thought I could run my program well, and had nothing more to learn. I was critical of the leaders in my church, of methods, and was insulted and mad when corrected. Eventually I quit that job.
I look back and realize now how little I actually knew…I failed in my humility, my tasks, and my relationships at that job. I have since started a new job at the bottom, and worked up to a supervisory role, overseeing more than 20 people. I then resigned for a new opportunity, where I once again started at the bottom. I have realized along the way that I actually know very little and have so very much to learn. I have consistently come back to God; He reminds me of my humanness, of my limitations, but also of my strengths and gifts”
Jeremy’s story reminds me: demonstrating humility is not being down on oneself, or lacking initiative. To stay humble you will need to admit when you are wrong, ask for help, and cultivate a teachable spirit.
True humility is knowing who we are in perspective to who God is, and living in that identity…so friends, stay humble as you walk with Him.
Which leads to our second word:
KNOW WHOSE YOU ARE
Through my experience of living in Costa Rica, I realized there is usually one of two ways we identify ourselves.
In Canadian culture, we start by stating what we do. If I meet new people, we often break the ice by discussing our work. When I am in Costa Rica, the people I meet rarely ask what I do for work, and instead care more to hear about who I am in relation to other people, especially family.
In either situation, I have realized how we frame our identity is something that can trip us up if we fail to recognize whose we are.
A royal priesthood.
A child of God.
Hidden with Christ.
This is an incredible list. The amazing and challenging thing about acknowledging and owning our identity in Christ? It requires us to ask the question: is God enough?
My friend Jess shares about the years after graduation: hailing from Texas originally, a desire to go overseas and do mission work had to be put on hold while she waited for her landed immigrant status in Canada after marrying Stephen. Waiting for this status required working in a job that fell far below her desired post-graduation dreams.
She says, “somehow it took being stripped of all the things I felt capable of and wanted out of life to realize that God is enough. Nothing is capable of satisfying the desires of our hearts but Him. He is enough. Following Him, being with Him, knowing Him, it doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, He is always enough. I felt like a failure when I fixated on me; I came alive when I fixed my eyes on Him. He is enough.”
Hide yourself in Christ. Know you are loved and chosen by Him.
Thirdly, when it doesn’t turn out as you expected,
LET GOD BE GOD
I will confess here that I am a control freak. I am gifted with strengths of strategic planning and responsibility, and when they go into overdrive, I like to think I’m actually in control. I can run ahead without asking the Spirit to lead me. I can hold on to a specific picture of how it all should go, when God has something greater in mind.
In my picture, I would have graduated at 22, married at 25, and today be a loving mother of 3: 2 boys, one girl. And yes, I know their names.
And here I am, 34, single, and according to my Commuter Host student leadership team, I am loving mother to the 8 of them…just don’t try to do the math on how that would ever be possible.
Dreams are good things.
Vision and hope give us direction.
When we let God be God, He shapes them with us.
I have lived in Costa Rica, I have my MA in Leadership, I now teach, I have lived with friends who became family, and I am auntie-friend to their 5 children. I am by no means disappointed with the life I have lived thus far.
Does that mean my dreams are gone?
I hold those dreams close, I continue to ask for them, and I choose to trust Him.
And some days, it hurts.
When the “picture” doesn’t happen, my friend Kristy says “it puts us in a place to call out to Him (or we can harden ourselves against Him…that is also an option)….it can end up building our faith.”
Christa acknowledges, “it is easy to look back with disappointment and identify the areas where things went wrong, or where it feels like God dropped the ball. The truth is that my view is limited… just because things don’t turn out the way I expect, God is still present and active. Identifying the ways He is working gives me hope and a new vision for future success.”
When Alicia finds plans aren’t working, she reminds herself: “He knows, He knows, He knows where I am at, my heart, my needs. He knows me better than I know myself. He loves me.”
Choose to trust Him, even when it might hurt, because He is good.
My friends, when you don’t get that one job, or when you stammer through your first sermon, or the door closes to buy that house, or you inadvertently insult someone leading your first team meeting…please try again.
Nate wisely notes, “Failure is probably one of the more common deeper fears, and yet nothing of consequence can be done without the element of risk that failure brings.”
Jeremy says, “If you don’t fail, you haven’t tried.”
Anj reminds, “God can let our failure be an opportunity for growth and change.”
Christa urges, “Get involved again! Failure can make me afraid to try, but I have found that taking the step to try again, actually helps minimize my past failures.”
In your first year, if you took a class with Ken, you likely memorized 1 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
What I love about that verse, is its reminder that God’s Word is for our equipping…and throughout Scripture, we find the stories of those who have gone before, who God wants us to know about, who failed and who feared, who battled pride, who had to figure out whose they were, who wrestled to let God be God and follow His lead.
Many of the heroes of the faith in Scripture could have had very short stories if they had not tried again.
May you be strong and courageous as you try again.
CELEBRATE THE WINS
If you have heard anything in this talk thus far, you will have picked up on the fact that the 9 of us have encountered a journey different than the one we pictured when we sat in your seats. And we have learned so much. We celebrate what Jesus has done in and through us. We choose to trust Him moving forward. So I urge you, celebrate the moments where you see Him moving. Celebrate the accomplishments He leads you through.
Go live your dreams! (Ask Him to shape them).
Change the world! (Walk humbly with Him).
Believe in yourself! (Believe in the One to whom you belong and have courage to try again).
Congratulations dear graduates.
May you celebrate well today.