Last week as we attended the baccalaureate service for our graduating high school student — and may I pause to express tremendous gratitude that our child managed to graduate — we listened to a professional motivational speaker, who was the father of one of the graduating seniors.
The speaker suggested that the life of each of the graduating seniors would turn out rather differently than they then imagined. To illustrate his point, he asked any of the parents and staff present to raise their hand if their life had gone pretty much as they had expected at the time they were graduating high school. Of course, no hands went up. The speaker quipped that if any hands had gone up we'd know which people to test for drug abuse.
I knew a man that was renowned among his acquaintances for having successfully stuck to a plan he had made for his life. The story went that as a teenager the man obtained a large sheet of butcher paper. He listed his life goals and then made a map of how to achieve those goals, adding specific requirements and related plans.
The man consistently applied himself to his plan for many years. Sure enough, he obtained the education he desired, established the family he wanted, advanced in his chosen career as projected, and lived where he had planned to live. Indeed, he admirably achieved far beyond what anyone in his remote rural community might have expected.
But in his early 50s the man's keen mind began to show symptoms of what ultimately was diagnosed as Alzheimer Disease. His plan had not anticipated the decline in cognitive function and physical health that would be the central feature of his remaining days.
Life is like that for all of us. How could I have anticipated being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a young adult? The kind of software development I do for a living did not exist when I graduated high school. Moreover, having excelled in accounting in high school, I pursued and achieved a decent career in the accounting field. How could I have known that I would end up being a software developer for most of my adult life?
The baccalaureate speaker said that he wasn't suggesting that the graduating seniors should avoid planning ahead. Rather, he said that they needed to have a connection to something deeper and more reliable than those plans. It was this kind of spiritual connection that would grant them a level of stability as they dealt with the curve balls life would throw at them.
I once heard an interview with a well known agnostic that had previously classed himself as an atheist. He was not religious. But his research showed that for almost all people, regardless of level of religiosity, a time would come when spirituality would become individually important.
One man called the show and said that he could not imagine himself ever reaching that point. The scholar assured him that he would. The man replied that he would cross that bridge when he came to it. The scholar suggested that this was somewhat like making no preparations for impending retirement. He kindly invited the man to give the matter some thought and to make some preparation sooner rather than later.
I know from personal experience that when life proves itself uncertain — as it certainly will, it pays to be grounded on a spiritual "rock," a "sure foundation" (see Heleman 5:12) beyond one's own puny abilities.