Sarah Mac’s Baccalaureate Sermon

Proverbs 1:1-7:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young — Let the wise also hear and gain in learning…The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

 I have an 18 year old daughter who graduates this year.  Sharing at her baccalaureate service was very special.

I am convinced that wisdom is what all of us need in life as we live in a state of continual graduation to what God has us next. Wisdom is knowledge, understanding, experience, discretion, and intuitive understanding, along with a capacity to apply these qualities well in life. Wisdom is the application of knowledge. Some people call it common sense, others “discernment”. My grandmother called it “walking around sense.”

To some extent the terms wisdom and intelligence have similar and overlapping meanings. Wisdom, unlike intelligence, is a universal virtue recognized in almost every culture as having philosophical and religious connections – it’s not what you know, but how you use what you know. That’s wisdom and that’s what you need to make it from here on. I want my daughter to understand that high school graduation is only one in a series of graduations in life.  It’s like what Arie Pencovici once said, “Graduation is only a concept.  In real life every day you graduate.  Graduation is a process that goes on until the last day of your life.  If you can grasp that, you’ll make a difference.”

In the hope that she (and all of us) will graduate every day, I want to share seven practical nuggets of wisdom that come from a variety of sources: shared experience, philosophy, psychology, and religion. Listen to these wisdom reflections – use them well.

  1. Take Risks: The difference between mediocrity and greatness is in your willingness to take a chance and act.
    1. Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”
    2. Since the day you were born, you have learned that there is a way over, around or through the obstacles you have faced. It is not the obstacles that inhibit your progress but your lack of confidence and will. That’s what breaks through the doubt…faith in yourself, in others around you, and in God.
    3. Take action. Every story of accomplishment, every leader you’ve ever admired, amazing ‘aha’ moment are the results of someone taking action. Remember, you have a choice: You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life.
    4. Cultivate good judgment and discernment, and then trust your gut (there is actually some great science behind trusting your gut! Read Gut Feelings, by Gerd Gigerenzer). Act on the impulses cultivated in you. If you are going to fail, let it be on your terms.
  2. Stop Blame-Shifting Right Now
    1. If you want to resign yourself to failure forever, then keep blaming everyone else for you problems and your shortcomings. In psychology, there is a concept called “external locus of control”. It is the belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power.  Example: Whenever he fails a test, the boy always has an excuse ready: the room was too hot, he wasn’t feeling well, and the test was unfair. He never seems to feel culpable, even if he simply hasn’t studied enough.
    2. I can promise you this – if you don’t dig deep and learn to accept responsibility for your life and where you want to go, you won’t ever amount to anything worth being.
    3. Have the courage to accept that you’re not perfect, nothing is, and no one is — and that’s OK. Remember to look at yourself first when you are reflecting on failure. This requires a keen sense of self-awareness.
    4. On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” ― Michel de Montaigne
  3. Be a Ruthlessly Compassionate Truth Teller
    • Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline, says that the only way to cultivate creative tension and break through organizational learning barriers (I would argue this is true in personal relationship barriers as well) is to become a “ruthlessly compassionate truthteller” or allow one to come alongside of you to speak truth in your situation. The key is that they are ruthlessly compassionate…not just ruthlessly honest.
    • First, you must be an assertive truth teller.  Be assertive.  Assertiveness is defined as your ability to express your wishes, your wants, your desires, your hopes and your dreams. You have to learn to develop this ability if you want to communicate well or be in healthy relationships with others. To be successful in life, you are going to have to be able to tell people what you want to see happen, what you wish to see happen, or express your feelings in a healthy way. If you are unable to find your voice and be assertive, then you will always be acted UPON in life.  So, be an assertive truth teller…but always do it compassionately.
    • Second, be ruthlessly compassionate.  Without love, a ruthless truth teller is just an aggressive and bossy person and people will only hang out with you for what you do for them, not for who you are. Assertiveness is the ability to express your wants, wishes and desires in a healthy way. Aggressiveness just makes you a jerk.
    • A compassionate person is an active listener…one who actually listens to others. They repeat back to the person what they hear to confirm shared understanding. When you do this, you “behold” people – which is a capacity that will draw people to you like moths to a flame. Some of the greatest, most charismatic leaders in the world would effectively “behold” people.  In order to be an effective active listener, you must place others in a place of prominence. Remember, you are not the center of creation; the cosmos does not revolve around you! As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3-4 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Listen more than you speak. That’s always good advice.
  4. Extend the Grace to Others That You Would Like Extended to You
    1. When people make mistakes, or drop the ball, or let you down – will you be willing to forgive them?  We tend to judge others by their actions, while we judge ourselves by our intentions.  Don’t fall into that trap.
    2. There is an ancient story of the desert monk Abba Moses. Some monks were going to discipline another brother who was guilty of sin. The assembled the brothers and sent a message to Abba Moses telling him to come, but Abba Moses would not come. They sent for him again telling him they were waiting for him to discipline this other brother. Moses got up and went. He took an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried it on his back. He put a little sand in his hand and carried it in front of him. When Abba Moses arrived, the brothers asked, “What does this mean Abba Moses?” Abba Moses said, “The basket on my back are my sins; they are many so I put them on my back and I shall not give notice or weep for them. The sand in the palm of my hand is the sin of our brother and they are in front of me. I see them and I judge them. This is not right, I ought to have my own sins in front of me and think on them and ask God to forgive me.” When the other monks heard this, they forgive their brother monk and said, “This is the true way of salvation.”
  5. Be Wise as Snakes, But Gentle as Doves (Matthew 10, Words of Jesus)
    1. You have to be wise in this world. You can make a lot of mistakes in life, and you will, but there are times when we make the wrong mistake at the wrong time in front of the wrong people – we don’t know when or where this will happen (that’s the problem with mistakes, we don’t control them).
    2. One DUI underage, one fight, one plagiarized paper, one brief moment in time, one mistake can cost you more than you know…we don’t control the consequences of our mistakes, but we can control the mistakes.
    3. This should not cause you to fear, but to be proactive and smart. You must think a few steps ahead of every action to put in place safety nets to be ready when you judgment is limited. To be wise as a snake means we must see that life is not easy and often is tries to trip us up…we must be proactive and make good decisions ahead of time.
    4. That’s why Jesus said, I want you to love and be gentle as doves, but be wise like a snake – watch out.
  6. Don’t Be Afraid of Hard Work
    1. Remember Aesop’s Fable of The Ants and the Grasshopper – The ants were spending a fine winter’s day drying grain collected in the summertime. A Grasshopper, perishing with famine, passed by and earnestly begged for a little food. The Ants inquired of him, “Why did you not treasure up food during the summer?’ He replied, “I spend my days in leisure enjoying the find spring and summer weather. I passed the days in singing.” Then the ants said in derision: “If you were foolish enough to sing all the summer, you must dance supper-less to bed in the winter.”
    2. You have to work hard to accomplish something worthwhile. Don’t look at your parents have right now…ask them to share their story with you of what they had to do to get here. You may learn a lot about life and work if you do.
    3. We expect to graduate college and start off with a life where our parents are now. That’s because we don’t realize the 20+ years of hard work that led them to this time and place.
    4. “In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins:  cash and experience.  Take the experience first; the cash will come later.”  ~Harold Geneen
  7. Finally, Always Be Yourself
    1. You can Google for an answer. You can Google for a mate. You can Google for a career. But you can’t Google to find what’s in your heart, the passion that lifts you skyward.  Ask Siri what your purpose is in life.  She can’t give you an answer.
    2. “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”  ~e.e. cummings, 1955
    3. The world will try to dismantle you every day and make you into something you do not want to be. Don’t sell out. Hold fast. Be who God created you to be. If you try to be someone you are not, you are nothing by an imposter.
    4. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Be wise! Heed the wisdom that is given to you from your elders, your parents, your teachers, your mentors, and the teachings of your faith tradition. It’s a tough world out there, but you are well equipped. Don’t be afraid of the future. Embrace the chaos! Love deeply! Walk with humility!

“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”  ― Lao Tzu

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