Going places

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.  –From Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Dare I say it?  I love my job.  Not at every moment, of course.  On any given day, I may find myself at the end of a committee meeting scratching my head and wondering, “And what was the purpose of that, exactly?”  But for the most part, I feel tremendously blessed to do what I do: teaching and mentoring graduate students who are exploring their call to serve God, mostly as therapists, but also as pastors or family life educators.

To be sure, not every student has heard the voice of Jesus commanding them to become family therapists (zap!—“Now get up and go to Pasadena, and you will be told what to do”).  Even those who are fairly certain of their call may be uncertain of its appropriateness: “Who, me?  Lord, are you sure you didn’t send that email to the wrong address?”  For most, it’s more a matter of testing possibilities and discovering gifts than following a predetermined path or plan.

Last week, I was reminded of all this—of the intimate relationship between their vocation and mine—at a yearly departmental ritual.  Faculty and staff gathered with graduating students for a final farewell.  After dinner, tables were pushed aside and chairs rearranged.  We sat in a circle; one by one, graduates spoke with deep emotion of the journeys that led them up to and through seminary.  There were stories of pain, healing, and redemption; of vulnerability and trust; of old questions answered and new ones asked.  Such stories are a gift to me, because they help me once again to look past the busyness of the academy to the sometimes unseen work of the Holy Spirit in the intersecting lives of those whom I pass in the hallways every day.

Across many of the stories, a dominant theme was hope.  Not a generic hope, not mere optimism—but Christian hope, the kind that requires faith in God’s goodness and trust in his providence.  Students were able to tell of their own brokenness, but also of how God had met them as they relived and reworked past trauma.  Unsteady and uncertain as first-time therapists, they reached out to their clients anyway, and again and again—miracle of miracles!—therapist and client alike found hope and healing in the meeting of souls.

Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a whimsical word of encouragement to grads.  Not surprisingly, though, its encouragement is of the generic and worldly kind, in which advanced degrees are the keys that unlock new doors of opportunity.  Education, we are told, confers the freedom to choose, to chart your own course, to determine your destiny.  That way, supposedly, lies hope.

It’s a partial truth at best, one whose luster has tarnished somewhat in today’s economy.  It’s true that some vocations can only be pursued with the right degrees and licenses in hand.  But that is to understand “vocation” in a secular sense only, as something more akin to a career than a calling.

If we are “called”—if we have a “vocation” in the best sense of the word—it’s because there’s a God who does the calling.  If we have hope, it’s because the God who calls has already shown himself to be both gracious and faithful.

Class of 2013, I will be silently cheering you on as you cross the stage at commencement.  An interesting word, “commencement”–one that suggests new beginnings.  (Oh, the places you’ll go!)  But in truth, you are just beginning a new chapter in an old, old story.

It has been a privilege to serve you during this chapter; remember the story we share.  Always keep the glorious end of that story in view as you nurture hope, in your own heart and the lives of those you serve.  Amen.