That’s It?

Dear Will:

A little over a week ago my firstborn, Luke, graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in Communications (Mass Communications, to be precise, with a specialization in Computing and a minor in Human Complex Systems—whatever that is). He had originally planned to go to law school after graduating, but in December it occurred to him that he was much more interested in studying law than in practicing it. So in January he began to look for his first real job.

So far, he has had a few nibbles but no job offers. Because he is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate (and highly motivated), I’m confident that he will find work in due course. But now that he has moved back home, he and I are both feeling anxious for him to find work, settle into a place of his own, and get on with life.

When I picked him up from Westwood last week, he told me that he was feeling more than a bit disappointed with the experience of graduating from college—like the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. “I’ve been pointing to this moment my entire life,” he told me. “Before UCLA, it was all about taking the right classes and getting the grades necessary to get into a good school so that I could get a degree from a respected university. Now that that has happened, I find myself thinking: ‘That’s it? I went through all of that trouble just so that I could move back home and be unemployed?’”

In his current state of mind, Luke is having trouble seeing the bigger picture. He can’t see far enough down the road to appreciate what he has learned or what he has become as a consequence of his 16 years of education. He is not yet old enough or wise enough to recognize his good fortune or his exceptional preparation, to see how the last four years have helped position him to become a meaningful contributor to society. Having traveled that road before him, and knowing as I do many who have been neither so fortunate nor so bright, I know much better than he could that the road ahead for him will be brightly lit and lined with promising opportunities. Luke is disappointed primarily because he still has no real sense of what happens next.

Do you ever wonder if, when you reach the end of your life on earth, you’ll find yourself thinking: “That’s it?” Do you imagine that all of the hard work and trial you may pass through between birth and death will prove to be little more than that—a long slog culminating in a huge disappointment? Do you wonder if the difficulties of mortality will prove to be worth it?

It’s easy to get so caught up in what makes life hard that we don’t fully appreciate the ways in which our mortal existence prepares us for something much greater. Like Luke, we have trouble seeing far enough down the road that we can put this life into its proper eternal perspective. But as Thoreau said: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a Morningstar.” It was Isaiah who first penned these words made more familiar by the apostle Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The trick, of course, is to move forward with faith, knowing that God’s promises are always—always—sure.

In the short term, my task is to keep Luke believing in the near future, to help him believe in himself and in his preparation sufficiently to convince an employer to believe in him as well. In a few short months, I’m sure his outlook will be brighter. But until then, he still needs a job. Which reminds me: You don’t happen to know anyone who would like to hire a recent college grad who is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate, do you?

PW

One of the Truly Lucky Ones

Dear Will:

My 50th birthday is fast approaching. Yuck. It’s not that 50 is old, per se, but the milestone has caused me to pause, consider, and recoil: What do I have to show for myself at this point?

My first thought is: Not much. I have a decent career in which I get paid more than most but not enough that anyone would consider me wealthy by any stretch. And I’ve bounced from job to job so much that anyone who really knows would likely smirk at the notion that such peregrinations could ever be considered a “career.” Even so, the kids are fed and clothed, the mortgage is current, and at least for now I’m still getting paid twice a month.

But still. . . .

I can’t exactly say that I’m as secure as I might have imagined when I set off on adulthood 30-some years ago. Isn’t this that point in life in which I’m supposed to be overpaid and playing a lot of golf? When the house is paid for and I’m taking annual trips to Bermuda or the British Isles? When the nest egg is building toward early retirement in just a few more years? Well, that isn’t exactly how it has worked out.

And this. . . .

My bald-headed body is starting to show significant wear-and-tear. I have the chronic lower back pain often associated with middle age. My eyesight isn’t what it once was. Last week I learned that I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. I’ll spare you the results of the mid-century physical, but let’s just say that the results were inconclusive. And I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in my right knee.

But still. . . .

My heart is strong and I weigh only slightly more than I’m supposed to. I have an amazing wife (my first and only) and three terrific kids. We live in a nice house in a free land with all of the modern conveniences you could hope for. My wife and children all are interesting, engaging people full of talent and potential. We have all been blessed with excellent health (the bald head and rotator cuff notwithstanding). And we live near the people we love the most, surrounded by good friends and neighbors.

And this. . . .

We have, at the center of our lives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which provides for us an anchor when times are rough and a guide as we face an uncertain future. And it is through an understanding of that gospel that I know of a surety that in that which matters most I am one of the truly lucky ones.

There is certainly no glamor in turning 50. But I take great solace in knowing that the purpose of my existence is in part fulfilled by my earthly challenges and successes. And Christ has given this assurance: That if I seek His kingdom first and foremost, all other needful things will be added unto me (see, for example, Matthew 6:24-34, or Jacob 2:18-19). That is not a promise of worldly goods or riches so much as it is the promise of perspective and eternal happiness. In that sense, I aspire to be like Paul, who said: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Have I fallen short of the dreams of my youth? In several unimportant ways, perhaps. But have I been blessed far beyond measure or merit? No question. And I thank God for that.

PW