Remember the advice your commencement speaker gave you at graduation? Me neither. Between praying my mortarboard would stay pinned to my head and the stress of potentially tripping after posing with the headmaster, I didn't have the focus left to pay attention to the advice that was supposed to carry me into adulthood (besides the importance of alumni contributing to the development funds).
However, in the decade or so since graduation I've collected a few nuggets of wisdom. So if you also spaced out during your commencement address, don't think you have to redo school or settle for "wearing sunscreen."
While great advice, real maturity goes beyond skincare to understanding God, others and yourself. First, love God. This isn't something you can instantly conjure up, but start by beginning and ending every day with the prayer "Jesus, I trust in you." It sounds pithy, but after I was advised to do this I was amazed at how my days changed. Beginning each day with an act of faith -- of recognition that you are not in charge and that you believe there's someone out there who knows what's best for you will put the events of the day in perspective. Often we can look back, over a year or decade and see God's hand in the details that didn't seem to make sense at the time. It's getting through the day to day that takes faith and trust in God. Praying builds trust and, like any relationship, trust builds love. Love others. As difficult as it is to love an invisible God, it can be even more difficult to love the people who are right in front of you. As Amanda Marshall once penned, "Everybody's got a story that could break your heart." While I don't think that track became much of a hit, it's good advice for dealing with people. As you encounter the "real world," full of some of the nicest and most terrible people you'll ever meet, remember that you don't know their whole story -- no matter how much you've stalked them on Facebook. Love others simply because they were created by God -- not because they have necessarily done anything to deserve it. Then, ask for God's help when you need to forgive them. Finally, give of yourself. Joy comes not from getting, but from learning what you have to give. My first two years in the "real world" were spent doing pretty much what I do now -- working with students at a local church. The difference was that it was in Central America, and my pay was $12 a week. My first day at work, already overwhelmed, I asked a fellow volunteer why she had returned for a second year. Her answer: "This isn't the easiest job, for sure. But there wasn't a single day last year that I didn't wake up excited for what the day held." I can still remember how content she was -- not because of her financial status, but because she had discovered what she had that she could share.
Created in the image and likeness of God, we will find true happiness when we are acting as he created us to act -- in love. In the Gospel of John, Christ explained, "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
Whether you're just graduating or have been hanging out in the real world for a few decades, real joy is never gained in serving yourself. Rather, it is found in love of God and those he created and a sincere gift of self.
Columnist Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.