Graduation: 6 Questions About the Future
"What are you planning to do after you graduate?" I feel bad asking the question. I really do want to know what the high school kids in our congregation are planning on doing after graduation. But I also remember how awkward this question was for me when I was in their shoes. Everyone expected me to have an idea... and I had none. Some of my friends were shipping off to excellent academic institutions with big dreams. Others were preparing to imbibe more alcohol than knowledge in a frat or sorority. And still others, like me, weren't all that sure.
Those were confusing times. At first I didn't want to go to college. And then I decided to attend a small Lutheran liberal arts university not far from home because I didn't have any other ideas. I changed majors a few times. On a trip to St. Louis over spring break a friend pressured me into taking biblical Greek. After graduation I enrolled in seminary. I changed my mind and worked a couple years instead. Finally.... the pieces came together and I decided that being a pastor would be the best way to serve my neighbor.
Looking back, it all worked out. But there were certainly times of intense anxiety and confusion. And so, I definitely feel for those who receive the cliche question, "What are you doing after graduation?" As I look back at my experience wrestling with this question, as well as see those who are undertaking the question now, here are some questions to help guide young Christians in their journey toward a faithful future.
Where Will I Worship?
Perhaps this seems like an odd question to start with when it comes to choosing a college or vocation after graduation. But very often this is the last question asked by parents and college prospectives, when in reality it should be the first. Nothing could be more important. We were created to worship. As Christians, we are creatures that need a biblical habitat with preaching and the Lord's Supper in plentiful supply. We need a community of brothers and sisters in the faith who will walk with us during these critical college years.
For some, post-graduation will send them a plane, train, or bus distance away from their home congregation. Being away from home for the first time is full of opportunity, but also danger. What will keep our distance from home from being a distance from God? Answer - A deep commitment to the life of a local congregation. I'm not taking about a campus ministry. These are helpful. But they are never a substitute for a local church with people from a variety of ages and backgrounds. If you're doing college visits, make it a weekend and visit a church. Look up the location of faithful, biblical churches near your place of study. Check in with you pastor - chances are he may know a pastor in the area, or at least work with you to find a good fit.
For others, graduation will mean commuting to work or studying at a local college or university. The same applies. Take this as an opportunity to grow all the more committed to your congregation in an adult way. Go to adult Bible study. Take ownership of something. Start something new. Serve wherever you are needed. You are a vital member of the body of Christ.
What Books Have I Read?
The Christian faith is so, so, so intellectually fulfilling. It gives us a coherent view of reality that is rich a beautiful. However, chances are your view of reality will not be shared or welcomed by a secular institution. It's no secret that some professors are aggressively anti-Christian. Many universities are places of great learning. But many of them are stuck in a sort of postmodern dark age. This presents great opportunity, however, as long as you've done your homework and learned how to think from the perspective of a biblical worldview. The church and the world need young minds like yours that will approach every discipline - whether it be medicine, education, science, engineering, or the arts - from a uniquely Christian perspective. So - read, read, read, and then keep on reading. By the way, I commend to you this excellent essay written by Duke professor Stanley Hauerwas about the need for thinking Christians in the academic world: "God With God - An Open Letter to Young Christians on Their Way to College."
Where Will I Live?
If you're planning on going out of state, this doesn't apply. But if you're attending an institution less than an hour away, have you decided whether you'll commute or live in the dorms? There's plenty of good reasons to live on campus. You don't waste time coming and going and you can focus more on your studies and social life. However, there are also dangers related to living on campus. Given what I know about dorm life at secular universities, temptations abound. If you strive to live a life in line with your identity as a child of God, you will experience discomfort and alienation. You need to be honest with yourself. Are you mature enough as a Christian, both morally and intellectually, to live in an environment that is morally and intellectually hostile to your faith? Perhaps you are. But then again, maybe you aren't. As I've seen people drift away from the faith during college, very often it's not for intellectual reasons. Distance first grows because of moral decisions that grieve the Holy Spirit. And then a host of intellectual objections to Christianity become attractive - even convenient - to justify a lifestyle or set of choices in defiance of God's good and perfect will.
You also need to think about good stewardship. Is it really worth the extra thousands of dollars to live in a small dorm with an odd roommate who uses all your stuff without asking? Is it worth all the student loan debt to eat in a cafeteria with below average food? By commuting you may save thousands of dollars - money that will free you up to pay off loans, travel to Europe, buy an engagement ring, or put a down payment on a house. You may also learn to manage your days and weeks like a normal working adult. Those habits pay off better in the future than the perpetual adolescence often fostered in dorm life.
How Can I Use My Breaks Well?
You will most likely have summers off. Unless you become an educator, this may never happen again until you retire. How can you use your summers and other breaks well? These pauses from responsibility are excellent opportunities for service. Have you considered volunteering as a short term missionary? Maybe working at a Christian camp or a non-profit organization? Is there a place at your church for an internship? All of these examples afford opportunities to sharpen the gifts God has given you. They may even help you figure out what kind of career to pursue, or at the very least set the tone of your future career as one of service to others.
What Does Success Look Like?
Would you rather.... make $200,000 each year, enjoy the status of a successful career, and have a lifestyle with no limits, but have mediocre character, only adequate integrity, and a spiritual life that's typically running on empty? OR, would you rather have a modest job with a modest salary, a level of success that no ones really notices, but also a deep connection to Christ and your local church, and a family that loves you and knows your love as well? It's possible to be successful and godly. Christians should do the best they can at everything. But godliness is the true definition of success, so godliness must trump any version of success that would comprise it.
Jesus once said to the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, "What is exalted among men is an abomination with God" (Luke 16:15). Jesus also said, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Don't let others set the metrics of what success looks like - let God. The truth is that your peers, the culture around you, and even your parents at times will have expectations of what success looks like that differ from what God calls success. What matters more than what college you choose and what career you pursue is whether you're deeply rooted in Christ and producing the fruits of the Spirit that come from union with him. Next to that, everything else is just details. Pursue the glory of God and the good of others. The rest will just be details.
Where Does Marriage Fit?
Not everyone is called to marriage. Some of you may be called to be single - either by circumstances or choice - for the purpose of God's work in your life. That's OK. In fact, in a culture that tends to sexualize just about everything, celibacy is countercultural. Marriage is countercultural as well. In fact, I would argue that the Christian view of marriage and singleness is one of the most countercultural elements of our faith. If you're one of those people, like most, who longs for a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, it's a good idea to have a game plan in mind as you graduate and head into the adult world. A few thoughts:
For one, don't date just to date. This will get you nowhere fast, and lead you into temptation and sin faster than you expect. If you date, then date purposefully. Ask yourself, am I in the place where I could be married in the near future? And if so, is the person I'm dating marriage material? Very often young people pursue relationships because of cultural expectations (this is just what you do, right?) or out of a deep longing for fulfillment. But a deep longing for fulfillment can also be a trap - we end of looking to another person to give us what only God can. A great book to read before even thinking about dating is Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods - especially the chapter on romantic love. As Keller points out, very often our pursuit of romance is an effort to feed a need that only God can satisfy, and the fallout is often messy.
Second, don't buy into the lie that marriage needs to wait. As a pastor, I see people put off marriage for good reasons, and for bad reasons. Some people put off marriage because they haven't found a good fit. That's an excellent reason. Marriage is permanent, so take your time. People also put marriage on hold to get their education and career in order. That's a good reason too, but only if you have the gift of self-control. If you're able to live a sexually pure life as a single person, or even as a dating person, then that's great. Get your education and career in order. But please, please, please avoid the trendy thing to do - move in with someone. This is a cheap substitute for marriage. It means I love you, but not enough to say forever.
Ladies, don't waste your time on a guy who wants to move in with you but not marry you. He's not a man - he's an adolescent. Avoid him like the plague. Guys, the woman you love deserves your commitment. Don't sell her short. Grow up. If you can move in with her, then you can also grow up, be a man, and get married.
The topic of this post is now morphing into another topic, so let me get back on track. The point is this: marriage is a great thing. If you meet a godly person with whom you connect, why wait for years and years? It's just as easy to be poor married as it is single. My wife and I are coming up on our ten year anniversary this month. She was in her last year of college during our first year of marriage. I was at seminary for four years of our ten years together. So, we've been in some kind of education half of our married lives. Were things a bit tight sometimes? Sure. We even had two kids while I was in school. But God provided. And here's the thing - I can't imagine doing any of it all over again without her.
Don't get me wrong - I don't want you to rush marriage. Take your time. Pray. Wait. Be patient. But I also don't want to see you compromise your integrity, or put off a great blessing, just because culture tells you that marriage is something for way later in life and not in your twenties.
In short, whatever you do in the future, do it well, do it to God's glory, and do it for others. Like I said before, the rest is just details. In fact, when someone asks you that annoying question, "What are you going to do now?" Maybe just smile and answer, "I have no idea. But it will be for God's glory and for others."
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT