It’s been a rough morning in the news. Hewlett-Packard has announced that it will lay off 27,000 workers after profits slid 31 percent. The Congressional Budget Office states that the U.S. economy could fall off a “fiscal cliff” if tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect at the end of the year are not avoided. Retail sales slowed sharply last month; the economy added fewer jobs than expected.
How should we respond? This morning I’d like to encourage you to see the challenges of our day in a different light.
Eric Greitens was the commencement speaker for last Sunday’s graduation at Tufts University. He graduated from Duke University in 1996. While in college, he aided war refugees in Croatia and Rwanda, where he learned a principle that would change his life. As he told the Tufts graduates, “Those who knew that they had a purpose that was larger than themselves, those who knew that others were counting on them, they grew to be stronger.”
After Duke, Greitens was named a Rhodes Scholar. He earned a master’s degree from Oxford in 1998 and a Ph.D. in political science in 2000. An accomplished marathon runner and boxer, he then became a Navy SEAL, serving four tours overseas. He targeted terrorists and survived a suicide truck bomb in Iraq. There he learned another lesson about service.
Visiting those who were injured more severely than himself, he asked them what they wanted to do when they recovered. Their answer? “Every single one of them said to me, ‘I want to return to my unit.'” Those who were injured too severely to continue in the military said they would go home and find another way to help others. Once they had begun a life of service, they knew they would not be fulfilled doing anything else.
Greitens then told the graduates, “The best definition I have ever heard of a vocation is that it’s the place where your great joy meets the world’s great need. There are infinite possibilities for you for joy, for service, to make a contribution, and we need all of you to find your vocation. To develop your joys, your passions, and to match them to the world’s great need.
He concluded: “I would like to ask something of you. Let’s decide that today will be both a day of celebration and a day that we embrace a challenge. Let’s look back with pride at all that you have accomplished, and let’s also look forward with confidence, knowing that you will go forward to use all of your talents and abilities, all of your creativity and energy to find a way to be of service to others. If you do that, life will not be easy, but you will have chosen for yourself a very meaningful adventure.”
The One who called us to “wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14) and prove our discipleship by our love (v. 35) would agree. Hard times are the best times to serve. Whose need will you meet today?