Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]
Last month, I received an email from my college alumni association asking alums to share 21 words of encouragement or advice with the class of 2021. The request gave me pause as I pondered what wise and pithy advice for this year’s grads I would put into a mere 21 words. Since my eldest grand is starting her senior year at NYU, I wondered what words of wisdom I would share with her next year.
Turning first to Scripture, I thought of the to-the-point advice in Proverbs but discovered that one verse was too short and two were too long. Thinking of my favorite Bible verses, I turned to 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Finding it one word too short, I checked other translations and eventually found the perfect length in the ESV. But, instead of “be courageous,” it said “act like men,” a somewhat imperfect translation of the Greek word Paul used meaning to act in a courageous and virtuous manner. Since today’s youth probably would be offended by what seems sexist language, I eliminated that from my possibilities.
I then turned to Matthew 22 and Jesus’ answer when the Pharisee asked Him the most important commandment. With some editing and the use of an ellipsis, I met the 21-word requirement with the Message translation of His answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. … Love others as well as you love yourself.” [22:37,39]
As all-encompassing and wise as those words are, they aren’t mine and they didn’t cover everything I’d want to say to my own grands in just 21 words. If required to summarize my philosophy that succinctly, what would I say? The limit of 21 words made this exercise as challenging as writing a three-line 17-syllable haiku.
Eventually, I came up with the following: “Love God. Love others. Follow Jesus. Pray. Read Scripture. Work hard. Forgive. Be kind, generous, honest, and patient. Laugh. Be yourself.” If allowed more words, I probably would add, “Listen more, speak less,” along with “Believe in yourself.” These are some of the things I wish it hadn’t taken me several decades to learn! I do suspect that most of that advice actually was given to me as a youth; it’s just that I had to learn those lessons for myself.
Several years ago, I was given the assignment of writing my salvation story in 100 words or less. Selecting 21 words of inspiring advice turned out to be much harder than that! Nevertheless, just as we should be prepared to give a clear and concise answer when someone asks how we came to be followers of Jesus, we should be able to summarize our values and way of life in a few words.
What is important to you? What few words do you wish you’d heard when you were stepping into adulthood? What 21 words would you choose for today’s graduates?