If you asked me during my early college years what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d tell you: to be an ordinary, good person. You know, do good things in life, graduate, work, get married, have a family, et cetera. I once asked my dad, who worked so hard to send me to MIT, whether he would be OK if after I graduated from college I did absolutely nothing with my degree. Actually, he said he would be fine with that, since there was more to life than a degree.
While there was profound truth in that statement, my mindset wasn’t as deep then. Since the pressure was off, I felt essentially excused from having high ambitions. I wanted to go through life as inconsequentially as possible, as quietly as possible, not causing any stir, whether good or bad. Besides, I thought Christians were not supposed to be ambitious.
Which was why when I heard that GYC 2003 theme and read the originating quote, “Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children” (Education, p. 18), my life philosophy was turned upside down.
You’re telling me that no human ambitions can equate God’s ambitions for His children?
I had to re-think a lot about how I approached life. I thought I had reached some decent heights in life, but God said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet. Come up higher.” New heights started opening up to me, things I had never imagined before.
With others involved in the Boston area campus ministries, I started doing things (of consequence). First as a participant, then slowly, I learned to get excited: “What about this?” or “Oh we can do that!” The most mind-blowing thing about all of this was the realization that I could actually do something for God and His cause! I was not inconsequential, and campus ministry gave my life so much meaning. I could be ambitious not for ambitions’ sake or the world’ applause, but for God, which was the only thing that mattered! I canvassed for two summers and the thought of an ordinary life grew dimmer by the day…
After undergraduate years, I spent a year as a missionary intern at C.A.M.P.U.S. to minister to public university students. There, my paradigm was further shaped. One of the resounding themes during the C.A.M.P.U.S. missionary training program (MTP) was the assertion, “You can change the world.”
The first time I heard it, I was like, “Yeah, right.” No one had ever said that to me before. “Me? Change the world? Pff.” But then they kept saying it, until slowly I started to believe them.
The thing that made it believable was because it was said in the context of Jesus Christ. The phrase “You can change the world” is energizing by itself, but without substance, it really is just a self-help, self-motivating type of mantra that will eventually fade away. No, the full phrase that was repeated at MTP and that stuck with me was, “Change the world by being changed.”
What does that mean? It means that you don’t change the world by your energy, loud voice, charisma, leadership skills, campaigning, or efforts. The key to making an impact in the world, a true impact that will last for eternity, is to be changed in the inside.
Think about Jesus. He did not start any organization, He did not have any degree, and at the end of His life everyone forsook Him. His life was simple, devoid of pomp and glory. But He changed and still is impacting the world, thousands of years after His life on earth. It was the force and nobility of His character that rippled through the ages.
The impact that will matter in heaven’s accounting comes only when Jesus changes and transforms a person in the inside, to be like Him in character. This is the prerequisite that will only give meaning to the eloquence, charisma, and these other accessory skills. Once that happens, with God by your side, nothing is impossible.
Fewer things can resonate with a youthful soul than dreaming the impossible. “You’re too young to know that certain things are impossible, so you do them anyway,” says the character William Pitt in the movie Amazing Grace.
Now, one of my favorite things to do is get together with like-minded friends, and with some Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet to fuel the brain, start a “dreaming session,” thinking and brainstorming about things to do to address what’s lacking. Many a project has come out as a brainchild. Some fell through, some took off, but in all of them there were fun, excitement, and passion. I mean, the joy of finding things that excite your very being, that you don’t want to go to sleep and you can’t wait to wake up, is indescribable. Life is so much more meaningful this way.
The last thing I want is an ordinary life. I can’t go back to a dreamless life. I have no straight plans or visions of how my life should be, because I want to be surprised. I want to always say yes when God calls me to a higher ground, and I want to see impossible things happen.
In the pursuit of higher education, I have been very fortunate to enroll in two amazing institutions. And I wasn’t even one who dreamed ambitiously about getting a piece of these prestigious names.
But the highest education available to mankind is not contained within the perimeters of the Ivy League schools or any other institutions, inaccessible to most. The highest education is in the communion with the Greatest Teacher incomparable to any being in the universe, and is available everywhere, every moment, and for everyone.
The mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God, the finite with the Infinite. The effect of such communion on body and mind and soul is beyond estimate. Education, p. 14.
That quote is taken from my favorite book of all time, Education by Ellen Gould White. It’s not about education as in classroom/teaching situation; it’s about the philosophy of life and learning. Such an absolutely amazing book. This first paragraph of the book blows my mind every single time I read it.
Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come. p. 13
It’s saying that the relevance of true education expands wide in space and time. It will be good and useful for this life and the life to come, and for this world and the world to come. It doesn’t focus on the intellectual development in expense of mental, physical, and spiritual developments. It concerns the whole being, the character of a person.
And I totally buy this idea.
In the school of Christ, every experience is a teacher, every personal encounter a lesson book, and all the world’s a classroom. Every knowledge and skill gained is placed in the context of who God wants me to be. To serve is to find joy. There is no vacation, nor would you want vacation from this school. And the most awesome part is that there is no graduation as well.
Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One… There every power will be developed, every capability increased. The grandest enterprises will be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations will be reached, the highest ambitions realized. And still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the power of body and mind and soul. p. 301, 307
Need I say more.
When I gained Christ, I enrolled in the grandest school of all time and I gained the One who has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as my personal Teacher. Crazy.
November is a big month in my family, since it contains five big celebratory events: both of my parents’ and my birthdays, my parents’ anniversary, and my baptism anniversary, with the latter two having the same date. When my father passed away, two of the five events couldn’t be celebrated anymore. Today would have been his 62nd birthday, and I want to celebrate him in a non-birthday-cake type of way.
In the recent months, I’ve found myself often asking the question, What made my life the way it is and what made me who I am right now? A lot of those times, I found my pseudo self-analysis ending up at my father. In decision making, in thinking about life issues, in managing finances, and in planning, I’d catch myself realizing that I was thinking like my father would, and I couldn’t help it. Although sometimes it could be frustrating being ‘trapped’ in certain ways of thinking, some of these things have been playing crucial roles in my professional life. Some helped me avoid drama. Overall, I’ve found them very useful, and thus I’m thankful.
It’s pretty crazy how large a role upbringing plays in someone’s identity, character, personality, and in a way, destiny.
My father did many things in his life for me that have propelled me to this stage. But the legacy that still lives on and continues to bear fruit is the stamp of his character in mine. My siblings too bear aspects of his character in their own way. We have not seen the full effect of his training that he imparted in our childhood, and I have a feeling more and more of this will come out in our adulthood.
Losing my father and not being able to ask him for advice has made me more intentional in going to my heavenly Father for counsel and for wisdom. I ask for Him not only to show me what to do, but how to think rightly. I ask for discernment and good judgment, and trust that He would grant it somehow. And just like my father’s character is imprinted in me from being brought up by him, perhaps God’s character can too be imprinted the same way from His training, to the point where I can’t help but to think and act like He would. Because to be like Jesus is not just to imitate Him in a try-hard, behavioral kind of way; it is to be like Him in thoughts and character. Everything else will follow.
So today, despite the fact that I would have loved many more years with my father, I’m thankful for the 23 years I had with him and for my heavenly Father who ever lives.