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Oh, The Places You’ll Go – Renewal Leave Update #2
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“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” 

― Dr. SeussOh, The Places You’ll Go!


img 0359 768x512One of the keys themes of my renewal leave is transition, and certainly one of the most profound transitions a person can go through in this life is seeing one’s children launch into adulthood. I wrote a book on how pastor’s transition from one church to another—a process that involved extensive research and testing to determine best practices and procedures—but this parenting transition is a lot less about the nuts and bolts and more about an emotional process. What is your role as a parent, now that your kids are “adulting?”


These were the questions on my mind as we traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for our daughter Hannah’s graduation from Calvin College, where she earned dual degrees in Film and Media and French. Fortunately for Jennifer and I (and for Hannah and Rob), the great faculty and administration at Calvin gave us some good handles for processing this next season of life. Usually, graduation ceremonies and events are exercises in pontificating about vague dreams of the future, but a solid Christian college is a lot more willing to dive into specifics and encourage students and parents to engage God’s future for them.


There were three presentations that stood out to me over the weekend. In the first, the college chaplain, Mary Hulst, preached on Matthew 6:25-34 at the commencement chapel service. She did a marvelous job taking that passage in the Sermon on the Mount about worry and turning it into a powerful message about focusing on the right stuff in the midst of transition to a new phase of life. She pointed out that Jesus begins this teaching by pointing people to look around them at what God has already done: “Look at the birds of the air and the flowers of the field…” When we worry, we tend to look inward and not around us. When we’re focused on how God cares for even the smallest sparrow, we can believe that God knows our situation as well.


But Jesus’ advice isn’t simply, “Don’t worry, be happy.” He instead encourages us to set our focus on what really matters: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” Look at what God is up to today in your life, and do the thing he is asking you to do today. Chaplain Hulst quoted the acronym often used by recovering addicts: ODAAT (One Day At A Time). Jesus tells us to focus on life in this way, praying for our daily bread, because he knows how the story ultimately ends—and that one day all the things we worry about will no longer be a problem. In the midst of a chapel full of students and parents still worried about what’s next for them, this was helpful (and biblical) advice. It’s about “strengthening our trust muscles” and living every day with the kingdom in mind.


On graduation morning, Jennifer and I attended a gratitude breakfast for parents where Professor Laura DeHaan of the Psychology Department spoke to the anxiety all of us in the room were feeling about our parental roles. We’ve watched these kids grow up from little ones playing in the dirt to now being capable, competent adults who, even though they have that degree in hand, still need us. It’s just that our role as parents has changed. Our emerging adults are in the midst of key identity exploration even as they enter a period of instability, feeling that in-between phase between adolescence and adulthood. Hannah decorated her graduation cap with a meme that speaks to the conundrum: “Work Ahead (Uh, yeah, I sure hope it is”).


In the midst of all that change, our role as parents is to be a secure base from which our adult children can explore the world and what it holds for them and, more importantly, what God has called them to do and to be. There will be struggles and triumphs, mistakes and lessons, success and failure. But I love the idea of simply being a secure base—to be there when they need us and to keep praying for them when it doesn’t seem that they need us at all.


The graduation ceremony was spectacular, especially as graduations go. The president of the Student Senate, Andrew Oppong from Ghana, gave one of the most meaningful valedictory speeches I’ve ever heard, urging his fellow graduates to consider that following Jesus involves experiencing a certain kind of restlessness with the way things are in the world. Like Jesus, we should allow our dissatisfaction with the world to drive our stories and our storytelling. That’s a kingdom view of things and I found it helpful for myself as well as those wearing the caps and gowns!


The main commencement speaker was John Ortberg, who is pastor of Menlo Park Church in California and a well-known author and preacher. His message was poignant and powerful—quoting from both Dr. Seuss and the words of the angel to the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:8 – “I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” As Ortberg reminded the graduates, open doors are about opportunities and not guarantees. God is more interested in the person you will become than the circumstances you will inhabit. Who you are matters more than which door you choose. Indeed, many voices (like that of Dr. Seuss) will tell you that you can go any way you choose, but one voice says, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me” and “Not my will, but yours.” Our God is the God of the open door, the God of the rolled away stone and the empty tomb. When we choose to become more like Jesus, the more doors we begin to see open to the places God is calling us to go.


Those were some great messages to hear over the course of the weekend and they will stick with me as I hope they stick with the graduating class. But it was also a weekend of deep emotion and connection for me. I’m so proud of our Hannah—she is an amazing, creative, artistic, and independent young woman. It has been the great privilege of our lives to be part of her growing up, along with her wonderful brother Rob. We can’t wait to see the places they will go—where God will call them to go—and we will be here to be their secure base from which they can explore and thrive in God’s world! 


P.S. Take a look at Hannah’s web site, which showcases her talents as a videographer (and if you know someone who is looking for a creative film and media production artist to hire, pass it along!)

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