Class of 2020, I don’t need to tell you that you are entering a strange new world that no one has experienced before. 2020, the year of the corona virus, has been unlike anything any living person has seen thus far, and we are making up the rules as we go. You don’t even have an official celebration of your graduation because of this. This is a good life lesson – the only thing that remains the same is that things will always change. Because you don’t have a graduation celebration or an inspiring commencement speech, I wanted to give you one that will have more practical information than most graduation speeches I have heard. It is essentially what I wish someone had shared with me at your age. I call it The Big Five – The Five Most Important Decisions You Will Make and How to Get Them Right. Life is a series of decision points, and where you end up 5, 10, 20 or 50 years from now is a collection of all those decisions. I want you to make the wisest decisions possible. So, what are The Big Five?

The Big Five – The Five Most Important Decisions You Will Make and How to Get Them Right

5. Find Your Purpose and Go After It. Starting from least important to most important, number 5 is knowing your purpose and going after it. We are all created uniquely for a purpose on this earth – to do something no one else can do. Steve Jobs’ purpose was to make great personal devices, Bill Gates’ mission was to build a great operating system, Martin Luther King’s calling was to make the world closer to racial equality, George Washington was uniquely designed to establish a new nation, William Shakespeare was gifted to write inspiring poems and sonnets and plays, Beethoven was put on the plant to compose beautiful songs, Michelangelo was meant to paint amazing paintings and sculpt brilliant sculptures. You get the idea.

If you were born to be a painter, you will die behind a computer. If you were born to be a salesperson, you will hate doing algorithms for big data at Google. If you were born to be a medical missionary to Africa, you will be miserable until you are doing your purpose.

It is your job to find your purpose – and that requires knowing yourself. What you are good at, how you are made, what drives you, what your passion is, what experiences have you had that makes your heart sing. So, part of the next few years should be a time of self-discovery. Because when you find what your purpose is, you truly become fully alive. And the world needs more people who are fully alive. You can usually find your sweet spot where your skills and gifts, your passions, and your experience all intersect. It’s the middle of the Venn diagram.

One thing that is good to avoid as you strive to find and fulfil your purpose is comparing yourself with others. Comparison is a joy stealer – we either feel superior or inferior as we size ourselves up against others. And neither is good. Others are uniquely made for a different purpose than you and they are on a different path. So celebrate their success – and celebrate yours as well.

Once you find your purpose, you must live your purpose with intentionality. So many people waste years of their lives bumbling along with no plan. Be intentional and your dreams will come to fruition. Like any good company, I recommend writing a mission statement for your life (what your purpose is), and a vision statement (what you want your life to look like in 20 years) and a values statement (the code of honor you will live by even when no one is watching), and get a board of directors (those people who will keep you accountable if you veer off track). In addition to giving your life direction, it will help you say “no” to the many things that vie for your time that are not on your mission statement.

I will say that when your purpose includes helping others and making this world a better place, it will give you a life filled with fulfillment and contentment. There’s nothing that feels better and keeps one motivated than knowing you are making a difference in this world and transforming lives.

4. Children. The next most important decision you will make is whether to have children. Your parents made the plunge to have kids – and what a great decision that turned out to be!

This, of course, is a decision that you will have to make with your spouse. But from where I stand, I can tell you that you will never love anything more in your entire life than you will love your children. I know that at least most of you love your parents. But that love pales in comparison to how much they love you. And it wasn’t until I became a parent that I really started to understand the love that our heavenly father has for us.
Being a parent will change you. I am convinced that it is part of the Universe’s plan to mold us into better people. The process of becoming a better person happens with the people that are put in our life. When we are little, it’s primarily through our parents and grandparents. But when we are older, it’s primarily through our spouse and our children that we are honed, refined, and transformed. If we do parenthood right, our children make us less selfish, more forgiving, more understanding of other’s shortcomings, more easy-going, and help us define what is really important in life. And that’s just the short list.

On the other hand, it is a lifelong commitment. You never stop being a parent. After you become a parent, you really don’t remember what “free time” is. So it’s a good idea to make sure that you and your spouse are both mature and ready and selfless enough to devote your time, energy and money to children before you take a big step.

While we are on the subject of parents, I would like to think that everyone has wonderful parents that have given them love and support and encouragement along the way, and that everyone has a great relationship with their parents. The truth is, that just isn’t so for many people. There are a lot of hurting hearts out there because some parents are just bad parents, or could at least stand some improvement. So, just for a minute, I want to talk to all of you who have some issues with your parents, and, let’s face it, that’s a lot of us. You are now an adult. You can no longer blame everything wrong in your life on your folks or your upbringing. You need to make a real honest assessment of the things that you and they did wrong, and the things that you and they did right. For the things that they did wrong, make a decision right here and now that you will not repeat that in your own family with your children and your spouse. From now on, you get to decide what person you will be and what kind of family you will have. And if you need to heal, make healing a top priority, so that you don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. If you need to learn how to have healthy relationships, seek out help now, so you can have great relationships with your spouse and kids. There are a lot of hurting people due to bad parenting. You can’t change your parents, only God can do that. And you may never have the ideal relationship that you want with them. But you can try to understand them, forgive them, and move forward with your life with the best relationship possible with them.

So, the decision about kids. I’m a little biased. I can’t imagine life without them. Somewhere along the way, as we are teaching them and giving them roots to grow and wings to fly, they make us into better people. They are one of life’s greatest blessings.

3. People You Choose to Be With. Coming in as number three is your decision about the people you will surround yourself with – whether personally or professionally. Make sure you choose good people to hang with – the people you admire, the people who inspire you, the people who make you want to be a better person. We become like the people we choose to be with. We affect them and they affect us. Our relationships are like a ring of concentric circles, with our closest people being in the inner circle and acquaintances in the outer circle. Make sure the folks in your inner circles are those you admire and those who inspire. There’s no room for those with questionable morals or negative attitudes in your inner circles. And make sure that the company you work for and the people that you work with share your values. Life is too short to have to choose between keeping your job or doing something you would be ashamed of. You will likely change jobs several times in your lifetime, but the one thing you will always take with you is your reputation. Make sure you do nothing to tarnish yours.

2. Who to Marry. We are moving to the top, and coming in as the second most important decision you will ever make is your choice of a spouse and your choice of how you will treat that spouse. Billy Graham wisely said, “Nothing brings more joy than a good marriage, and nothing brings more misery than a bad marriage.” But how do you choose a spouse? How do you make love last a lifetime? I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few pointers.

This person is going to be in your innermost circle of two. So, as we said before, choose someone you admire, and someone who inspires – choose someone who makes you want to be a better person.

Choose someone who shares your values. If you are a good, emotionally healthy person, don’t choose someone who is a home improvement project, a rescue mission, or an addict. It takes two emotionally healthy people to have a healthy marriage – a healthy marriage is simply impossible when one or both people are not emotionally healthy. Choosing someone who is emotionally healthy – who exudes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, humility and self-control – and being emotionally healthy yourself will make for a harmonious and happy marriage.
Speaking of joy, researchers have discovered what I have always contended – that they key to joy is being thankful. When you humbly realize that every good thing in your life is a gift and you have an attitude of gratitude, it brings joy, even in the midst of the messes of life. It is nearly biochemically impossible to be thankful and to be anxious and depressed at the same time. On the other hand, choosing to be entitled with an arrogant attitude that the world owes you something is a guaranteed path to misery – nothing will ever be good enough and you will always have a chip on your shoulder. So choose joy.

And speaking of love, make sure you have the real deal, not some fake imitation. Love is a verb. It is what we choose to do. A wise person once said that love is patient and kind, never arrogant or rude or selfish or dishonest. Love looks for the best in others and acts in the best interest of others and the best interests of your relationship. Love is the most powerful force in the world. So love extravagantly – no reserves, no retreats, no regrets – and chose someone who loves you extravagantly.

Some misinformed people claim that you need someone who shares your interests, but that is baloney. A shared interest in Asian art or jazz music is not the stuff that strong marriages are built on. Those are merely personal preferences. It is far more important to have someone who has solid values. None of us have any idea of what the future may hold – but we do know, especially now, that it has great ups and downs. We will have job changes, moves, sickness, loss of loved ones, and now quarantines – who knew? Choose someone who can provide support in the challenges and share your joys in the successes, and you do the same.

Don’t expect this person to be your end all and be all and make you happy. That is your job. Your job is to be emotionally healthy so you can bring the best you to the marriage. If you need to do some work to get yourself emotionally healthy, then do it. Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.

Choose someone who will be a good role model for your future kids. Your children will grow up to be like you and your spouse. What is the best qualification? If one of your children had a moral question about what to do or how to act in a given situation, choose the person you would be thrilled to say in response, “What would daddy do? Be like your dad.” or “What would mommy do? Do what mom would do.” Choose that person.

Choose someone who shares your sense of purpose – or at least, if he or she hasn’t found their purpose yet, are willing to adopt your purpose as their own so that you can achieve it together. You may be called to be a missionary in Asia, but if your sweetheart has her heart set on being a computer programmer in Kalamazoo you will be at odds. It’s a beautiful marriage when a couple shares a strong sense of purpose, because they can achieve much more together than apart.

And once you find that person, treat him or her life the gift he or she is. Cherish that person. And cherish all the good people that are put in your life. They are gifts.

And when two good, emotionally healthy people find each other and cherish each other, and encourage the best in each other, and support each other during the tough times and cheer for each other in the good times, that love will last a lifetime.

1. The Most Important Decision. Now we get to number one. You may be thinking that we have covered all the big decisions you will ever have to make. But this one is the most important decision you will need to make because it influences all the rest of them and how you view life. And that is your decision about your relationship with God. A.W. Tozer said the most important thing about you is what comes to mind when you think about God. It colors everything we are and everything we do and even how we think. If you think God doesn’t exist, then you may believe that you are all on your own down here and live your life looking out only for number 1. If you think God is distant and uninvolved, we are often that way to those around us. If we think we have to earn God’s love and that he is looking to point out and punish every wrong that we do, then we are often judgmental and give conditional love sparingly to others. But if we think of him as a good father who cherishes us and wants a relationship with us and wants to bless us with good gifts and has an awesome plan for our lives, then we are that way to others and have the confidence that the Maker of the Universe walks with us.

People often have a lot of questions about God. Does he exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much evil if God is so good? How do I know what’s true? Don’t just sit on those questions. Find the right answers. And don’t just rely on what some people say, even us parents get it wrong sometimes. Go to the source. The Bible is a book that will change your life for the better if you read it and apply it. God is not afraid of your hard questions. And he promises that when we earnestly search for him we will find him. The problem is that most people spend more time researching questions they have about buying a new car than getting to know God. He wants a relationship with you. He already knows you, and he wants you to know him. But like any good relationship, it takes time and intentionality.

We each have a 100 percent chance that we will not leave this planet alive. Make sure that your most important decision is one that brings blessings in this life and in the life to come.

God wants you on his team, not in the stands. He wants players, not bench warmers. This is not a spectator sport. When we pray that age old prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” we are saying, “Put me in Coach! I’m ready to play!” We’re saying, “God, with you by my side, I will take on that mission of bringing heaven to earth.”

Which brings us back to the beginning. That’s really your mission, your purpose – to bring heaven to earth, to bring goodness to a planet that is in desperate need of it, in the wondrous way that God uniquely designed you to do it. That’s a decision you will never regret.

So those are the Big Five – the most important decisions you will make. When you make these wisely, the rest of the decisions you need to make will fall in line.

Graduates of 2020, congratulations on your achievement! Adventures await you. May you make wise decisions and may you walk with God all the days of your life. God bless you.