Graduation season provides a much-needed opportunity for busy people in a smartphone culture to pause and reflect on the purpose of life, the type of people we aspire to be and how our daily lives are shaping our character. Here are a handful of life guidelines I offer for consideration:
- Pursue Goodness, Truth and Beauty. Seek them out. Rejoice when you find them. We live in a world filled with the petty, the outrageous, the trivial and the base – a world where it is easy to allow desires for instant gratification to triumph over the deeper, quieter longing for virtue. Resist the allure of gossip, vulgarity, materialism and mindless forms of "entertainment" in favor of the soul-satisfying pursuit of what is noble, wise, creative, challenging and good. Struggle toward the higher ground.
- Choose what is right over what is easy. This one is becoming increasingly difficult, because our culture has become fanatical about "following our dreams," doing what "feels good" and pursuing our own personal happiness. But a life lived primarily in pursuit of personal comfort and pleasure will be a shallow, selfish existence. Choosing what is easy or comfortable may bring temporary pleasure, but choosing what is best builds a lifestyle and legacy of virtue that will never fail to bring genuine satisfaction, and will inspire others toward the same end.A great example of this is Sen. John McCain, who chose to remain with his brothers in arms and endure unthinkable torture as a prisoner of war in Vietnam rather than accept the privilege of being released due to his family connections. While this single, character-defining choice led to prolonged pain and suffering for McCain, its ripple effect through the ages will motivate countless others to be better patriots, better friends and better leaders.
- Little choices matter. Most of us won't ever face the kind of pivotal, life-altering choice McCain faced in Vietnam. For most of us, the theme of our life stories will be determined by the sum of a million "little" choices we make every day. To browse Facebook or engage in a conversation with my child. To overlook a petty offense or insist on making the offender "pay." To stay at work late again or be home in time for dinner. To watch another hour of television or to read something that teaches and challenges me. For most of us, these small, seemingly mundane choices are where the conviction to "choose what is right over what is easy" must have its application.In his book, "Parenting," author Paul David Tripp says, "Very little of our parenting takes place in grand significant moments that have stopped us in our tracks and commanded our full attention; parenting takes place on the fly when we're not really paying attention and are greeted with things that we did not know we were going to be dealing with that day." Such is true of life.
- Embrace love as an action rather than a mere feeling. It is a real pity that English-speakers use a single word, "love," to describe so many different feelings, but rarely to describe action. If we take the Bible's 1 Corinthians 13 as our guide, love is more properly understood as a way of treating other people than a particular feeling about them.If love is a mere feeling, then love will never last. Feelings are, as a rule, transient and unreliable. Everyone who falls into the feeling of love will fall out of it again, at certain moments or seasons. But we can choose to make the actions of love permanent in our relationships, through self-discipline. While this kind of love admittedly lacks the excitement of romantic attraction or infatuation, it is this kind of love – love proper – that forges the most lasting and satisfying bonds.
- Finally, live for an Audience of One. Being misunderstood by others – sometimes even those closest to us – can be one of the most painful experiences in life. It can be hard to continue in pursuit of what is good, true and beautiful when it seems like no one sees our struggles. But there is One who always sees and never misunderstands. As my father once told me, "No one is bigger than God, and no one loves you as much." Any life spent pursuing His approval – and accepting the grace He offers in our failures – will be a life well-lived.