Reflections: Providing sound advice to graduates

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It’s graduation season, and the greeting card aisles are filled with messages of hope and anticipation. Whenever I choose cards for graduates, I face a tiny existential crisis. I can’t remember specific words of any one particular card I received as a graduate, but I do recall the sense I got from all of them put together: The world is wide open to me with possibility, I have shown potential, and now I am being launched out there to achieve success. That’s a lot of pressure.

What can we faithfully say to those celebrating graduation? It is certainly an accomplishment worth recognizing. The one graduating has done all required to earn this credential. It took some combination of talent, intelligence, skill, perseverance, and grit. Kudos! But it’s also true that they’ve not done it alone. A village has helped out along the way, providing homework reminders, help, advice, and more. Teachers and school staff have rallied to support learners’ growth from grade to grade.

Along with this cadre of human care, no graduate, none of us who has achieved anything, has gotten where they are without the help of God. They’ve used the talents God gave them as gifts. They’ve been carried by God through times of trouble.

Acknowledging our reliance on God in success takes off the pressure. On graduation day, or at any milestone of our life’s achievements, we stand on the precipice of new possibilities. But, it’s not up to us to make the most of it alone — to fly or to fail. We’re carried along on the current of God’s grace, which will hold us when we fall and help us back to our feet when the time is right. It’s not up to us to produce a bright future. God promises the future is in good hands, that we cannot lose the love of God by anything we do or leave undone, and that in the end God will gather us into the greatest celebration of a success ever known: defeat over death, secured by Jesus and shared with us.

I think I know what I’ll write in graduation cards this week. It’s a quote I found in my friend Pastor Kara Root’s new book “Receiving This Life: Practicing the Deepest Belonging.” Feel free to use these same words if you wish from Frederick Buechner originally published in Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC:

The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.” There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too. —Frederick Buechner