Asking, ‘What now?’
By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, June 5, 2009 12:43 AM US/eastern
Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being this year’s baccalaureate preacher at Shelbyville High School. I was honored to be asked and enjoyed the time very much.
The title of my talk was “What Now?” In it, I suggested four life stances to take when faced with a “what now” decision, such as what now after the end of high school. Conveniently, the four suggestions form the acrostic BEAR so that a group of Shelbyville Golden Bears could easily remember them.
So, the B: Be bold!
By bold I don’t mean try to jump a building in a single bound or outrun speeding bullets — though if a bullet is heading your way, you might try something. What I mean is boldly stand for principles and values that improve this world for us all.
For instance, when someone is cast out by the majority — maybe because of race or religion, appearance or accent, sexual orientation or spiritual depth — what I hope is that our new graduates and all of us will boldly stand with and for that person. When we do, we answer the question “what now” by saying that now is the time for no more prejudice, no more bias, no more discrimination. Now is the time for dignity, for community, for love.
Another way to be bold is by not making life decisions based on where the money is good; instead, focus on where the work is good. That is, focus where the good comes from the difference the work makes in your life and the lives of others. When that happens, we answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to make a difference in my life and in the lives of others.
Of course, being bold means we will make mistakes. Making honest mistakes when living life boldly is a whole lot better than living some namby-pamby, half-baked cautious life. If we avoid the possibility of making mistakes by not being bold, then we also avoid the risk of success, achievement and even joy.
Second, the E: Enjoy life!
Enjoying life doesn’t only mean be happy. Happiness is good, but happiness can be temporary and fleeting.
Enjoying life means looking for joy. Joy can be lasting partly because joy comes from pursuing one’s interests and passions. My advice to those going on to college — which is not always well-received by their parents — is study what you love. Studying what is marketable might work for a while, but usually it only works a while. Studying what you love is much more likely to last!
Is there anything sadder than parents who pressure their children to live the parents’ dreams? Of course, we parents should give our kids advice — especially when we have their best interests at heart.
But we shouldn’t pressure our kids to live our dreams. They have or might develop dreams of their own.
Enjoy life also means enjoying family and friends. Nothing, not fame or fortune, not diplomas or distinctions, can replace the joy of family or true friends. When you are wrong, say so and ask for forgiveness. When someone wrongs you, offer forgiveness and hopefully reconcile. Enjoy life.
We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to enjoy life by pursuing my passions and interests, and by enjoying my family.
Third, the A: Ask questions!
Ask questions. Ask why things are the way they appear to be. More importantly, ask why things are not the way they ought to be.
I like to illustrate this point by saying it is absolutely great to help clean trash out of a creek. And it’s important to go up stream and ask who is putting the trash in to start with.
It’s absolutely great to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. And it’s important to ask why so many people are homeless.
An especially important question for us all to ask ourselves is, “Who tells you who you are?”
Some people need money to tell them who they are. Money is important and can be put to great use, but money shouldn’t define who we are.
Some people need power to tell them who they are. Some need academic institutions. Oddly, some need enemies, and without enemies to stand against, they don’t know what they stand for.
If it’s God telling us who we are, then we don’t have to prove ourselves. If God tells us who we are, then we are precious, unprecedented, unrepeatable, irreplaceable. Rather than proving ourselves, we simply need to express ourselves as the ones God made and meant for us to be.
We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to ask questions.
Finally, the R: Reimagine reality!
First of all, we reimagine the reality of our lives. Yes, we make mistakes, but we don’t need to cling to those mistakes as though they are the holiest things in our lives! They are not, so quit letting them weigh you down.
Yes, we sin. However — and this is one of my favorite things to say — there is more forgiveness in God than sin in you! Accept that forgiveness and face today’s challenges with today’s strength. You should never let yesterday dictate tomorrow.
The second part of reimagining reality is to reimagine our community and world with hope. I love the definition of hope that says “Hope is belief despite the evidence and then making the evidence change.”
We answer the question “what now” by saying now is the time to reimagine reality for ourselves and others.
“What now?” is not a question intended to cause panic and concern. Instead, my use of “What now?” is to recognize that our future is open, that we may do more than others expect of us, that at every point in our development we are striving to grow.
At the end of the day, my hope for the class of 2009 is a hope for us all: rather than focus so much on how to make a living, we focus on how to make lives worth living.