The room swells with emotion as celebrating family and friends stand to watch the robed graduates march to the front of the auditorium. The joyful music provides the soaring score for each young face beaming with happiness. The pandemic has forged this gathering into a tribe of persistent survivors. Zoom classes, isolation from peers and professors, and masks and vaccines have marked this educational journey. Their degree completion is a triumph over adversity for both themselves and the project of higher education itself. As each name is read and the diplomas and handshakes are accepted, here is a contemporary cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of prayer and faith.
But what of the day after? The words of Winston Churchill, spoken during the dark days of Great Britain’s fight against Nazi Germany can be appropriated for the hour: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” As young women and men process from graduations around the Pacific Union Conference, we can ask of them (and ourselves!) “What are you beginning?”
The answers vary. “The beginning of my career” or “The beginning of trying to get a job” or “The beginning of relocating to another place to live” or “The beginning of more schooling” or “The beginning of the unknown.”
As they stride into the day after—whether to new jobs, more schooling, or a new home—each is beginning the next segment of a divinely designed pilgrimage. But how can we be so sure?
First, because each of us are endowed at birth with a divinely designed future. Psalm 139:16 declares this about God and our relationship to Him: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”1 In the context of the ever-present free will endowed to us by God, we are all continuing a pilgrimage that began the day we drew our first breath.
Pilgrimage is not a word we of the western world are accustomed to using about our lives. But in ancient times and in contemporary world religions, a pilgrimage is a planned journey with the destination being a holy place. In Bible times, it was Jerusalem that was the temporal goal for Passover and other national feasts. Many of the Psalms (“of ascents”) were written for the pilgrims to sing as they journeyed up to Jerusalem. What about today?
Scripture reveals that there is a spiritual destination for all on life’s pilgrimage with God. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).
I am reminded that we can also be so heavenly minded that we become no earthly good. Part of the pilgrimage is asking the question, “How can I make a difference in this world here and now?” On this journey, whether a newly minted graduate or a longtime pilgrim, we expand our horizons, develop wisdom, and witness the pathways emerging that deepen our relationship with God and expand our positive impact upon other people.
But why should this matter today in a world torn by war, financial uncertainty, and social unrest? Social surveys show that the default reaction to government, media, and other institutions (including the church) is distrust. Yet that same distrust is transformed into confidence when people interact personally with leaders in their personal sphere of work, community, and faith. If we choose to fulfill our calling from God, each of us becomes uniquely equipped to bridge those chasms of distrust and be instruments of God’s grace and love in this distrustful world.
We are at a generational moment where our field of work—our presence in this society and this church—calls for each of us to be beacons of God’s redeeming grace. These are the times that call women and men who are ready to engage with the big problems. God is calling for spiritual pioneers who are brave enough to enter the public square of service—individuals just audacious enough to reject the default cultural norm of personal security and wealth creation and seek service and sacrifice in the name of Jesus Christ.
Man’s Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl’s profound narrative of his personal journey to purpose as a Holocaust survivor. After enduring the unimaginable horrors of the concentration camp, he profoundly asserts, "The meaning of your life is to help others find the meaning of theirs."2
On this journey, whether a newly minted graduate or a longtime pilgrim, we expand our horizons, develop wisdom, and witness the pathways emerging that deepen our relationship with God and expand our positive impact upon other people.
A friend recently shared with me the book Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change. The author, Tod Bolsinger, recounts his visit to Prague: “There in the middle of the square were two artisans who were drawing a sizable crowd to watch them ply their craft. They took pieces of scrap iron, discards, and by first heating them until they were soft and pliable, and then held securely on the anvil, they were pummeled and pounded into a new shape. The process repeated: fire, steel, sweat; heating, holding, forming; placed, pounded, and finally, plunged into water. I watched those artisans—so physical, so purposeful, so violent with hammer and inferno, so precise and exacting. They seemed a living icon of God. For we are the raw material, scraps of hardened, resisting steel. And they, the craftsmen, are so like God in precision and purpose, using the heat of challenges, the anvil of community, and the hammer of practices to transform us from raw material into something useful and beautiful.”3
If we are willing, this is our time. Fashioned for this very moment in earth’s history to be shaped for God’s unique purpose in the days ahead. It is our Lord who brings the question before each of us: Will you heed the call and embrace the pilgrimage?
This promise in Ephesians 2:10 is for each of us on the journey today: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Bradford C. Newton is the president of the
Pacific Union Conference.
1. All Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation.
2. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2006). Kindle edition, location nos. 1613-1615.
3. Tod Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), pp. 1-2.