This afternoon, I’m going to speak to a group of at-risk students in Roswell. How I got the gig is through a friend of mine, Sarah P. Zacharias; Sarah is someone who also loves working with students, and she is involved with a mentoring program called Project LIFT. She recommended me as a guest speaker, and we worked out a date for me to come and address the kids.
Today’s the day.
And I’m scared. I’ve struggled with what to say. How do I start? Should I be funny? Is what I’m thinking of actually funny, or just a lame middle-aged man’s idea of what he thinks students find funny? What can I say that would be meaningful? What can I say that isn’t saturated with religious overtones (this is an after-school, non-religious program)? What do I wear? Do my sneakers smell? And why does Wile E. Coyote keep chasing after the Road Runner? Can’t he just go vegetarian and save himself some hassle?
Like I said – it’s been a struggle.
But another friend of mine gave me some advice recently. He referenced the TED Talks and said that the average TED presenter is told they have 18 minutes with which to change the world. So, my friend suggested, if you had just a few minutes to say something to change the world, what would you say?
I extrapolated that to my afternoon session: I’ve got 30 minutes to maybe change a life. What do I say?
Well, off the top of my head, I can tell you what I don’t want to say. I don’t want to talk about negative things. I mean seriously: if you only have 30 minutes to change the world, do you really want to burn 10-12 of them enumerating things that suck? Not that I’d cold open with a laundry list of things that are horrible about the world, but sometimes, when trying to motivate people, we drift into the negative because that’s kind of our default. We tend to see the hardships in life much more clearly (or at least it dominates more of our view) than the blessings.
People know the world sucks. What they need to know is how to fix it. So, in 30 minutes or less, how do you teach someone to fix the world?
I can’t even get my kids to sit still and eat dinner for thirty minutes.
But, if we eliminate the negative and stick with the positive – that is, if we focus on things that move us towards a better world – what are the essential things? Well, naturally, I’d say a relationship with Jesus Christ. I think the only hope we really have of ever changing the world begins and ends with Christ changing us. Until we have His heart, His Spirit, and His power, our best efforts will be dust in the wind. But, if we speak and write and act according to His will we can see the world tilt on its axis. The past 2000 years have shown us at least that much.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if I can be that overt. But if I can’t proselytize, I can certainly use Christ as an example. So what about the life of Jesus can I point to that suggests how we can change the world?
Well, there’s sacrifice. That’s always a good one. There’s leadership – He certainly knew how to train the absolutely worst candidates for the job to become the best in their field. There’s compassion. Honesty. Integrity. Courage. Solitude. Wisdom. Guts. Gentleness. Appropriate anger*. Friendship. Vision. Mission. Hope. Determination. Obedience. Intelligence. Critical thinking. Storytelling. Understanding. Creativity. The list could go on.
*My favorite thing I’ve seen recently was a t-shirt that read, “When asked, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, always remember: flipping over tables and taking a whip to people is a viable option.
But what was the key thing? Something that can be reproduced in every human being, regardless of religious affiliation?
My friend John Njoroge, of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, shared it with me a while back when telling me about a message he had to deliver. It’s found in John 13:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.
Put simply, Jesus knew who he was and what he was meant to do.
Maybe this resonates with me because it’s my reality right now. I’m discovering at 37 that knowing who you are (your talents, passions, likes, dislikes) and what you’re meant to do (the things that you feel you must do in order to truly live) is the core of being able to effect change. Too many of us waste away, not knowing ourselves, not knowing what we are supposed to be doing with our lives, not even daring to ask ourselves the questions. We succumb to the idea that a life of domesticity – that is, a life where we simply work, pay bills, do a few fun things, then die – is the life we’re meant to live.
But even a life like that begs to be lived fully. Sure, you may never quit your job and move to Nepal to serve as a sherpa, but that doesn’t mean your life should be devoid of growth and change. That doesn’t mean you should see yourself as a person who doesn’t matter.
And this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky, we-are-all-precious-little-snowflakes garbage either; I’m not encouraging the pursuit of some stupid fantasy life. I’m encouraging the living of life to the fullest. To do that, though, you have to know yourself. You have to know what you can do, want to do, and where to find the meaning in between. You also have to know if you’re willing to live with the risks that come from embracing that future.
So that’s where I’m going to go this afternoon. I would rather teach a group of kids that pursuing their dreams of being whatever they think they can be matters, rather than stand up there and encourage them to be good little boys and girls. It’s like C.S. Lewis said: “Aim for heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in; aim for earth and you’ll get neither.” By knowing who we are and what we’re meant to do, we can avoid getting caught up in the expectations and demands others would place on us. We can choose wisely where to invest our lives in order to make the most impact.
Thirty minutes. Not a lot of time. But knowing who I am and what I’m supposed to do, it’s time enough.