Monthly Archives: January 2016

Celebrate Graduations!

Blind Faith (No. 4, 2016)
Weekly Devotional for January 28, 2016
Celebrate Graduations!

Let the graduation celebrations begin! I know, I know.. May and
June are the traditional months for graduation festivities. Some graduation
observances muscle through other holiday demands in December. But achieving
challenging goals and completing arduous pursuits other than earning
academic degrees can be occasions that call for joyous celebrations. We
should be quick to “rejoice with those who rejoice .” (Romans 12:15 NIV) as
Paul encourages us, whatever the cause for elation may be.

Fifteen years ago I was in the middle of long and (it felt at
the time) tortuous rehabilitation from rotator cuff surgery on my left
shoulder. The superb physical therapist guiding my recovery had me moving
the shoulder in ways I had never considered moving it before. He prescribed
various exercises and led me to repeat them using correct techniques. As the
number of reps I could tolerate increased, he added weights to provide
greater resistance for me to overcome with some of the routines. With my
shoulder regaining strength and flexibility, my PT began to talk about
graduation day approaching. I learned that his practice used the term
“graduation day” to refer to the culmination of the course of rehabilitation
designed to reach specific objectives in recovering use of a formerly
impaired part of the patient’s body. They liked to recognize the hard work
and progress made during rehab with a little celebration, applause, and
presentation of a certificate when a patient “graduated” from formal rehab
sessions, he explained. He quickly added that my work was not finished when
discharged, only that I would need to continue the beneficial strengthening,
conditioning, and flexibility exercises on my own. Nevertheless, great joy
was at hand because my graduation was near!

Having been through a good handful of academic graduations
before, I had an idea of what a proper graduation celebration involved. On
the anticipated last day of seeing my therapist, I came prepared. He led me
through some of the familiar exercises, emphasizing the ones that were most
important for me to continue in order to maximize performance in my
shoulder. He measured my range of movement and gave me more lofty goals to
work toward. Finally, he said that we were all done, and it was time for me
to graduate. I asked him to wait just a moment, then I donned my doctoral
robe, octagonal gold-tasseled tam, and doctoral hood. “OK,” I said, “on with
the graduation!” When he regained some composure and could stifle his
laughter, my therapist in workout pants and a T-shirt posed with me in full
regalia for graduation pictures. I believe that a photo is still posted on
the billboard in his physical therapy center featuring patients’
post-graduation activities. I concluded formal rehab in early March and was
water skiing by June. I still include some of the exercises I learned in
therapy in my regular workouts. Those reps – now done with both shoulders –
have increased my strength and flexibility beyond where I was prior to my
surgery.

The concept of celebrating “graduation” could help us to
increase vitality in our spiritual lives. Taking time to recognize positive
achievements and to share the joy of accomplishment can encourage further
development and attainment of more challenging goals. I’m not talking about
the tiresome and somewhat counter-productive practice of presenting everyone
with an award for merely showing up for an event. Graduation should take
note of having met challenging standards, gaining expanded abilities, and
being prepared for further work. It should not mark closing down efforts to
achieve and succeed, but should commemorate the dawning of new opportunities
for service equipped with valuable new skills, strengths, and knowledge.
Satisfying basic requirements and meeting challenges positively in many
areas of life deserve to be celebrated as graduations toward more abundant
life.

James began his book of Christian ethical instruction with
recognition of the value of celebration along life’s challenging way. He
wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it
be an opportunity for joy. {3} For when your faith is tested, your endurance
has a chance to grow. {4} So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully
developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” (James
1:2-4 NLT) Any graduation worth its salt comes after mastering trials and
often vexing challenges. But James calls for expressions of joy as these are
met with growing faith and maturing capacity. Paul also endorses this habit
of celebration contributing to and encouraging spiritual growth and
development: “God will strengthen you with his own great power so that you
will not give up when troubles come, but you will be patient. And you will
joyfully give thanks to the Father who has made you able to have a share in
all that he has prepared for his people in the kingdom of light.”
(Colossians 1:11-12 NCV) Both of them echo the inherent desire we have for
sharing our joy that Jesus emphasized in the parables of the lost and found
sheep, silver coin, and son. When the searches concluded in restorations,
the immediate response was to celebrate: They “called together [their]
friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me!… Let us eat and
celebrate!’ And they began to celebrate.” (See Luke 15:6, 9, 23-24) We
know from experience that if we do not set aside a time and place for
expressing joy over meeting a challenge that the joy and thanksgiving can
easily get lost in the onrushing routine of daily life. Don’t let the
celebration slide! Make it an event and do what Paul said: “rejoice with
those who rejoice!”

What graduations might you celebrate, and with whom? Perhaps a
Bible study group might agree to memorize a selection of Bible verses by a
certain date. When the date comes around and members have been tested for
their achievement, then a graduation coffee or supper could be the
celebration. A group of believers might covenant to read through the Bible
in a year. At the end of the year – with appropriate accountability for one
another – a graduation breakfast or a trip to a movie might mark meeting the
challenge. Completing a mission project, or completing a book or course on
Christian discipleship could be the occasion for saluting the achievement
and celebrating. You might notice that someone has realized an important
goal and surprise them with a joyous celebration. Friends might stage a
joyous celebration for someone who has concluded a course of chemotherapy,
or has recovered from another illness, or has dropped a child off for school
for the first time, or has just been baptized upon profession of faith in
Jesus. Real pull-out-the-stops celebrations could increase the joy of God’s
strength enabling us to reach goals and to live life his way.

Invite a friend or members of your family of faith to celebrate
a milestone of grace you are experiencing. In the joy of that celebration,
pledge to press on toward greater growth in faith. Your work is not done
until the best celebration of all as God welcomes you into the eternal joys
of Heaven. But for now, savor the delight of reaching goals through faithful
living and share the joy with others in specific events of joyous
celebration. Are you about to graduate after meeting a challenge? Celebrate
graduation, and go on to more mature faith!

– J. Edward Culpepper