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Mary Vanden Berg, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is filling in while Theresa Latini is away on maternity leave.
‘Tis the season for graduation or, more precisely, commencement. On Memorial Day Weekend, Calvin Seminary graduated 76 students from a number of degree programs heading out to a wider variety of vocations, most of them related to ministry of one sort or another.
With every graduation ceremony comes a speech. Sometimes they are boring, sometimes funny, sometimes wise. Always they are meant to recall the past years at the institution and inspire the graduates for the next steps of their lives.
Graduations are both exciting and unnerving. For students whose plans are unfolding as they expected, the next steps of life can be something they look forward to. They are ready to get on with their dreams. For students whose plans are uncertain or maybe completely unformed, however, graduation can be an anxious time of wondering ‘what’s next.’
It is often observed that graduation is both an ending and a beginning. We move from being in one situation to being in another. We move from one identity to another. And there are lots and lots of these moves throughout life.
Some of these moves are big. Moves like graduation from high school or college or graduate school. In these we go from being a high school student, to being an employee or some other sort of student. Getting married is another big “graduation.” We go from being single to having a spouse. Of course the list of ‘big’ graduations could go on. But there are also lots of little graduations in life, little times we leave behind and go ahead. Some of these graduations, like getting a new job, are part of our plan. Some, like losing that job, are not. And like academic graduations, these little graduations, whether planned or unplanned, can be filled with anxiety and fear, or hope.
This is why graduations often challenge our faith in one way or another. What will the future hold? Am I sure I am ready for this next phase? I don’t know how to be a wife, or husband, or parent, or grad student. Aren’t I supposed to know what I am doing? These sorts of questions are perfectly normal. And God answers with one resounding command throughout Scripture: “Do not be afraid.”
Why shouldn’t we be afraid? The answer is as prevalent as the command: presence. God’s presence that is. The one who holds the future in his hands has your future in his hands too. But even more than that, God has promised to be with us, leading us into this new normal. In fact, Christ’s last spoken words while he was present on earth were, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
“Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)