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Graduates in a Tech World

This past week I got a chance to speak with a group of graduating seniors about what it looks like to trust and follow Jesus in a tech world. I want to remind these students, as well as any parents and future graduates who hear this, of three truths:

  • We can accomplish our mission in any vocation
  • You’re going to find out a lot about who truly loves you
  • Making a mistake doesn’t make you a mistake

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Nathan [00:00:08] Heavenly Father, thank you for this chance to talk about changes in season and life and some takeaways that you’ve given me, Lord, over these years of growth. Since graduation, I prayed for wisdom to share it with both parents and the young people who are graduating that we would see Your goodness, that we would walk Your path and that we would know and love You in every season of life Lord. In Your name, amen.

Nathan [00:00:29] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast. My name is Nathan Sutherland, and this podcast is dedicated to helping families love God and use tech. Today, it’s a special episode. We’re coming to the end of the school year for our friends on the East Coast. Your kiddos probably already graduated here on the West Coast of the United States. We are just approaching graduation in the next ten days. This is an exciting time and by the time you’re hearing this conversation, I’ve actually already been able to present to a special group of high schoolers in my hometown. In fact, this is the last group that I was able to teach in class. So in 2019, my group of eighth graders is this group of seniors. And this has been a dream of mine for the last three and a half years to be able to come back and have that moment where I get to speak to them again as a teacher, Yes, they’re going to be adults and full fledged graduates in the next week and a half. But in this opportunity, this is one of the final times they’re going to sit and listen to a teacher at other than a professor or something like that, but a teacher who has known them for years, who’s watched them grow and get that opportunity for me on my own, what I’ve wanted to do is to be able to point back to what has actually mattered in those years.

Nathan [00:01:39] So I kind of put together three takeaways. I know this is a popular idea, kind of what would you tell yourself? But it’s not just that my overarching goal in this conversation is to focus on hope and what gives us hope and how do we keep it. And then within that, talking a little bit about the work and the relationships and what matters in there. But the goal here for you today is to hear a little my heart for these young people and then extend that to any young people who might be listening to the young people in your life to really help us remind ourselves of what has happened when graduation occurs, why it matters. It’s not about the credits of the degree. It’s about the person that these young people are becoming and the challenges they have faced are facing, the mistakes they’re making and have made. And what that looks like in a world that we say is loved dearly by a living God. So what do we do in light of that? How do we have hope in light of the struggles we have and the hopes and dreams that we’ve got? That’s today’s conversation. So thank you for being here. And with no further ado, let’s get this conversation started.

Nathan [00:02:41] Welcome to the Gospel Tech podcast, a resource for parents who feel overwhelmed and outpaced as they raise healthy youth in a tech world. As an educator, parent and tech user. I want to equip parents with the tools, resources and confidence they need to raise kids who love God and use tech. Thank you to everyone who’s helped make this podcast possible. Thank you for liking. For sharing. For supporting us at We are a 501c3 nonprofit and we run off donations. Thank you for helping us do that. Thank you as well for commenting and subscribing I guess in the other direction. Subscribing. Wherever you listen to podcasts, you never miss a new episode and leaving us a rating and a review. That’s what I meant when I said comment because that helps other people find us. So thanks for doing that.

Nathan [00:03:33] Today’s conversation, this idea of graduation and how do we change a season of life well, or how do we reflect back on it? That’s really our goal for today. And so to start this, I want to just take a moment, be like, Man, let’s soak in graduates, let’s soak in what has just occurred. You are graduating, which means you are 13 years into your education process, assuming you went to kindergarten and maybe even preschool or something else, you could be more than 13 years. But 13 years is a huge deal. And in that time you’ve gained new things that new stages of life excuse me, and you’ve also lost some things of those stages, like when you went to elementary school, you gained recess and friends and a teacher who cared about you and loved you and wiped your nose and tied your shoes and like helped you with all the little things. Sure. They also taught you how to read and write and like some of those important things. But a lot of the learning of school comes in those little relational pieces. You knew how to deal with a bully. You knew how to make a friend. You learned how to skip and whistle and make that really annoying sound with your tongue. That’s amazing. And you lost naptime. Like that’s probably your greatest loss from your from your elementary school introduction. You lost that constant time around familiar people. You were constantly being pushed into areas where maybe you didn’t know everybody. Even in a small school, you’re going to run into new people and new ideas and new experiences and that can be scary, but it’s a huge gain in your personal character growth. Even those of you who are homeschooled, that doesn’t mean you’re isolated. You’re constantly being exposed to new individuals and new experiences and co-ops are incredible for this because you’re growing outside of simply what you’ve thought of on your own. You’re being exposed to poetry and to literature and to research and to information that is new. And it causes you to think critically and it causes you to return to the Bible. So what does God say about this information and this idea and what my place is in it? And that’s awesome. And then you go from elementary to middle school or to junior high here in my hometown. And so it’s seven, eight, nine. So you go from grade six, you’re now in grade seven, you’re in junior high, and you give up recess to gain a little more independence. You now have six teachers that are teaching you and they don’t tie your shoe or wipe your nose or really follow you around with your individual assignments. You’re making friends now and you’re accomplishing projects now that are yours to accomplish because it’s your goals in your life and your choices. And absolutely, there’s still counselors and there’s still support systems. There’s still ways to make up if you make a mistake or go on a trip and miss your test or whatever. Right? Like you’re not completely out on your own, but it’s a lot more independent than it was. And what I’ve seen is sixth graders carry a lot of that supported momentum through seventh grade, and then they arrive at eighth grade and they’re like, wait a minute, you mean I don’t have to do it right? Well, you got to do it, but I don’t have to. Like, there’s no law that says I have to like it. It’s this very aha moment and I Excuse me, please trust me. A decade of teaching, eighth grade. I saw this happen to a lot of kids. Yes. Even the quote unquote, good ones. It’s this moment of independence where they realize, wait, like these have to be my goals. I don’t just live out other people’s goals, like, aha, And then you lose your recess, of course, for this freedom, but you do gain this really cool opportunity. And I remember vividly the kids that I met and some of the mistakes I made in middle school that were made on my terms, that were my mistakes that I had to take to the Lord, I wasn’t being called out every time. It was very uncomfortable, really, to make a mistake and be like, Nobody knows. Like, this is me and God now dealing with this and I’m still not okay with it. But like, I have to process or I have to ask for help and that’s middle school. Then we graduate into the high school chapter of life, and high school comes with way bigger scale. For most of us, the school that I’m going to be speaking at, it’s a school of roughly 2000 kids. And so you show up as a ninth grader for sports, a sophomore, to actually be on campus in this area. And it’s a lot. It’s a lot of new people, new sizes. The difference between a sophomore and a senior and when it just comes to physical size is often significant, especially if you’re on my growth rate. Like I didn’t reach full size until after college or after high school, I guess into college. And that, that’s for many of us. The reality some of you, I get it. You were full grown in sixth grade. Congratulations. But with that newfound freedom and now these opportunities to leverage what we’re learning for our own life, maybe we’re going to get a job. Maybe we’re going to go on to further schooling. We lose a little bit of the intimacy and the coziness that comes with some of the middle school experience of the junior high experience. Kids are still often very excited and teachers are often very much about school spirit. In middle school and sometimes in high school, we become other focused, right? We focus on, well, what am I doing next? Seniors sometimes aren’t the most involved in school spirit and focused. Yes, the ASP is amazing. And yes, their school leadership, who is absolutely invested in raising up younger leaders. But as a class, let’s be serious. Sometimes they’re not the best at fundraisers or spirit assemblies, sometimes because half of them are off playing sports. So that idea of community and kind of the coziness of being known starts to break a little bit. But with it comes that opportunity to see, Wow, I’m standing a little bit more on my own legs here and I’m going to be stepping out into this world where a lot of this structure goes away. And if I go to college, it’s my classes and my goals. And if I don’t, then it’s no longer summer break. It’s just unemployment. And when we look at that idea, I just want us to take it in what that is. It’s a huge deal. It doesn’t mean, however, that you’re completely alone. And I think when we talk about hope in this, we want to recognize what 13 years of growth has done, what that’s meant for that arc, but it doesn’t magically stop. And that can be a little confusing.

Nathan [00:09:15] I know the first thing I want to really focus on in this conversation, after recognizing what your child or you have done and going through this educational process, the first thing is to recognize that the job we’re going to get, the career, the thing we’re going to be doing with our time isn’t the focus. Instead, the mission is the job is just the opportunity to do the mission. And by that I mean this. I was reading the book, Didn’t See It Coming. The book is solid. And at the very end he’s talking about burnout. And he brings up this great point, this idea that there’s a difference between vocation and mission. Vocation is just what you’re doing while you’re on mission. And I love this because when I went to college, I thought my purpose, what I am doing is becoming an orthodontist. I’m going to go put braces on people’s faces. And I was pumped for that. I made those my goal. My dad’s an orthodontist. And I thought, Hey, I’m going to go to college, get my bachelor’s of science, go to dental school, go to ortho school, and then I’m going to graduate and I’m going to help my dad at his practice in my hometown. And it’s going to be amazing. And then freshman year, biology and chemistry hit and I got a C and a B minus. And first semester I was like, Oh, well, just kidding. Like, there goes my dream of being a Bachelor of Science, let alone a DDS, let alone a doctor of orthodontics. Like, I’m not going to…I’m not going to get that. This was so hard and this wasn’t like I party too hard and didn’t get good grades. I studied on evenings that I studied on weekends. I went to the professor late night and even weekend study sessions. I got a tutor and just I got all the super smart kids around me, went to their study sessions and annoyed them with all my questions and I just couldn’t hack it. Like that wasn’t my thing. There was no way I was going to make it through any other form of anatomy or bio chem or any of these things that I would have to have.

Nathan [00:11:02] So very quickly, my dream of an orthodontist died like freshman year, first semester done, and I was left with this realization like, man, that wasn’t my purpose. It wasn’t some destination I was headed towards where I have to walk this path right. And once I get there, then I’ll matter more. Once I make that money, once I help my dad with the job, once I have a doctorate, once I do whatever the thing was that I thought was going to give me purpose, then I’ll matter. I was forced to realize no, like this process matters. Like me realizing I’m not an orthodontist. That’s good. Nothing could be worse then. If that’s true, that’s a fact that I’m just not supposed to be an orthodontist. That’s not going to be in God’s plan for me. The worst thing I could do is become an orthodontist. Like, Yeah, the pay would be great. And I think I would love it. And working with the people in my town and working with my dad. But everything else. Like what happens when my dad retires, which he’s now been retired for a decade? Like, it would’ve been a horrible choice. I don’t have the acumen to do that job well independently. It would have been a disaster. And I know this because I’ve seen two people in my town that have become orthodontist, and they’re incredible. They were gifted by God for this ability, and they remind me a lot of my father. And that’s awesome to watch them succeed at it and realize that wasn’t me. Like, great. But it can be hard when you go to college with a dream, when you’ve told people when you leave, I’m going to be an orthodontist. And they’ve said, Cool, we’re proud of you. And then three months later, you come back and like, Yeah, just kidding. That’s not true. And I went through a series of majors and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. And then I found history, and then I found political science. And by junior year, my grades improved. And what I saw was my interest level also improved to the point where I’d found a new dream. I wanted to be a lawyer, and specifically, I wanted to work for International Justice Mission and spend my life setting people free from slavery. And I was so pumped for that. And I got into the University of Gonzaga here in Washington State and to law school, took the LSAT, did well, got into law school, was pumped, and then realized, wait a minute, I actually don’t want to travel 70% of my year, which was with this specific job. I don’t want to be a lawyer just to be a lawyer. I want to do this specific job is like 70% of my year. I was dating Anna at the time. This is the first girl I’ve dated since eighth grade, and that was a pretty big deal and a commitment that it was a priority to me over this career. So I took another job and I realized, you know what? This is vocational stuff. I’m talking about what I want to do with my time, but I can still be missional wherever I am. I worked a job that was not the best and was still missional, which led me to teaching. And teaching led me to my passion to see young people reach their potential, which led me to start a nonprofit quitting teaching and now starting speaking. And in fact, this opportunity to speak comes to these seniors, comes because of the job that I now do, because it’s been missional the whole time. I’ve always been on the same path, and that’s what I want young people to see. So seniors, if you’re listening to this, younger people and older as well, listen to this. Our path in Christ isn’t just the destination we’re going to get to. Now I’m saved and I’m good and I’ll go do whatever I want. It’s a path we walk. We see this starting in Psalms 1, that there’s paths of the righteous and we see this throughout the Psalms and the Proverbs, that the Lord leads us in paths of righteousness for His namesake, which means when we walk away from that path, first of all, it’s been treaded down before us. It’s a path. It’s already there. We can get back to a path. It’s not a mystery. It’s not a treasure map. It’s not something we wonder if we’re on or off it. We can see we read the Lord’s law and we can see if we’re doing right or wrong. We listen to the Lord’s spirit in our hearts and we can hear if we’re doing right or wrong. We read Scripture and we can again apply the right of God into our lives and prayerfully repent of the wrong and be made into new creations. And that’s the path we walk. It’s not a ship that sails. Orthodontia was not my purpose. Where I go, Oh, man, that’s a bummer. I’ll never get there. Sorry purpose, I guess I’ll just have to settle. Instead, I’m actually achieving more purpose than ever dreamed because I’m on a mission with who God’s called me to be.

Nathan [00:14:56] And so that’s my first thing. Seniors just know. Be okay. If your majors change, be humble enough to ask for support and recognize that you can be on mission at school or out of school on summer break or off sun summer break, going on to further education or jumping right into the workforce. You can be on mission. You can love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You can love your neighbor as yourself, and that includes your enemies. And you can help others do the same, which is called making disciples, helping others trust and follow Jesus by living life with Him, by sharing gospel truths with them, and by living out what God is doing in your own heart on a daily basis, no matter your job. So with that in mind, young people just know your future is amazing. Please go do those incredible dreams and accomplish those incredible jobs that you have in your mind and make forays into avenues that we haven’t even thought of yet with science and engineering and AI and education and nursing and parenting and loving and serving your community and world that God has placed you in, Please do that. It’s Ephesians 2:10. God has good works planned for you, and it’s not what you accomplish that makes you matter. It’s the fact you already matter. You get to accomplish them, right? So this is working from hope, not for it.

Nathan [00:16:07] The second thing that is I do want to focus on this idea. I mentioned it briefly that the people you’re going to meet, seniors are going to be some of the most loving people you’ve ever met. And that’s amazing. And it’s not just the people that you’re dating. In fact, sometimes it’s explicitly not the people that you’re dating. I do want to make sure that at this stage of life, we reflect on our friendships and see which of those people I was friends with actually loved me. And the best way to know is which of those friends choose the highest good for me, right? My highest good. It doesn’t mean which friends make me feel warm and fuzzy all the time. In fact, if that’s your standard for a friend, those people aren’t friends. At best they’re trying to usurp things from you. At worst, they hate you and they’re trying to pacify you. The way you can know they hate you is that they actually are using you for their good. They give you things like ultimatums, like the If you love me, you would…Insert the blank. That’s an ultimatum. That’s not love. Okay? Jesus said, because I love you. I’m going to die on your behalf. You’ve never asked for this. It’s for your highest good. Sin is killing you. And I need to provide you a way. That’s what we’re then called to do. We love because He first loved us. We look at those around us and we say, Do these people seek my highest good? Do they call me when I’m making mistakes? Do they share life with me and consider the joys that I have their joys and consider my grief, their grief? Is that something they do? And if they do, that’s amazing. That’s a friend you want to keep. It’s going to take intentional relationship. If they do not, it’s a friend you want to pray through and say, Is this someone I’m serving and loving one directionally? That can be okay, right? I can come into their life and just love them where they’re at. I can set up a healthy boundaries and know where my limits are, but love them. Just because they need to be loved. It’s not a friendship per se. It’s a one way, grace style friendship where we are intervening and being missional in that. Cool.

Nathan [00:17:57] But for some of us, this slips into our romantic dating lives again. I mentioned that I didn’t have much success with dating and this was on purpose at a point I dated in seventh grade, then I dated again in eighth grade and then ninth grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, 12th grade freshman year. Sophomore year into my junior year, I didn’t date. And it wasn’t that I didn’t hang out with people. I went on group hangouts a lot. I spent time with girls. I went out to coffee and just I had friends. But, man, dating is a thing and it takes a lot of effort. And really what we want to make sure we can do is say, Hey, can you love this person? Can you unilaterally extend grace and love to this individual from your end one directional, okay? That’s the first question. And you can do that to anybody, not someone a romantic relationship. Excuse me. The second is, can you love God more than this person? And are you okay with them doing the same? It’s not a codependent relationship that we’re called to where we both have to be unhealthily half people and we’re only okay when we’re together and said we want to be whole and from our wholeness say I want to give you this wholeness every single day and I want to learn more about God so I can love more of you. That’s an amazing thing to do. And the third would simply be, is this someone who helps you look more like Jesus? They need to be someone who loves and follows Jesus. And it’s not because they’re a bad person if they don’t, it’s because they’re going to put their hope in either you or in something else at some point. And it’s absolutely toxic to your relationship to be the thing that makes a relationship work. You need Jesus as the thing that makes your relationship work, because then Jesus is where you go when your heart doesn’t work right, when you make mistakes, when you need more love, more grace, more humility. You can’t just turn to your spouse or drum it up from somewhere deep inside. That’s huge for relationships because relationships change in the season. Yes, some of the friends that you’ve had for years are going to slip away, some of it just because of space and time. And that’s okay. They’ll actually boomerang back here in the next ten years or so, and it’ll be really cool. Some of them, because you actually weren’t friends. It was convenience, It was common interest. You had video games or music concerts or mistakes all in common. And that formed kind of a trauma bond with you. And that’s not a friendship. A friendship is someone, again, as I mentioned, who can celebrate with you and empathize with you, who can grieve with you and do the day to day life so that you have this person that exemplifies Christ in your life.

Nathan [00:20:21] So that’s our friendships and use this season to really celebrate the great ones, to dig deeper in those, to ensure you stay in contact. Make a phone call, set up a direct message thread that you put in your phone to say, Hey, message this person to pray for them. And then there’s other ones. We’re like, You know what? I’m not going to pursue that. I’m the bad influence on them. They’re a bad influence on me, Whatever it is, I don’t think we have to blame all our problems on others. I think we take responsibility and say, in this season we’re not mature enough to hang out. Like this is a bad call. So just know that this is the season for doing that and it can be awesome. And in dating, I just want to encourage you that in your singleness or in your dating trust and follow Jesus. You don’t have to date a ton to get it right. I dated one person in college and it was Anna and that’s great. That’s wonderful. And I’m so thankful for that experience and opportunity and all the heartache. And it wasn’t really an accident. I kind of avoided dating like the plague. I hung out with people and I kept asking that series of questions come out of it. These people are fine to be friends with, but there’s no one here that draws me in to the extent where I want to serve and love them every single day from just my standpoint, not based on what they give me. I would say that in some of these relationships we build it too early on the physical aspect, and we leave out the spiritual and the emotional and the intellectual aspects of these people, the social aspects. We want to build those first. And then when romance comes into the picture, we have a whole person to love, not just a facet that kind of goes out. When the relationship grows and we don’t have anything else to build on. So that would be my one little stump to stand on when I talk about relationships.

Nathan [00:21:57] The third and final piece as we talk about this shift from high school to adulthood is our culture recognizes graduation as this huge landmark piece, culminating from 13 years of work and physical, spiritual, emotional growth. Intellectual growth is this idea that we’ve made mistakes and what do we do now? How do we handle the mistakes we have made in the mistakes we will make in light of the fact that we’re kind of on our own? These are our mistakes to make, and that can be the jobs we take and the people we date and where we move and the money we spend. And there’s a lot of different mistakes to make. How do we handle that? A lot of us just want to assume that now we’re grown. We don’t make mistakes. But adults, please, let’s pop that bubble for these young people. Let’s let them acknowledge that even people that love Jesus and have been married a long time make the same stupid mistakes. I can still see seventh grade Nathan show up and do stupid things. Like man, I’ve been doing that for since seventh grade, like for my entire adult and middle school and young adult life. These same mistakes come up. And for some of us it’s anger. And for some of us it’s sarcasm. And for some of us it’s running to food when we get stressed. In others it’s running to pornography. For others it’s serial relationships or whatever it might be for you. There are these nagging holes in our lives that very early on we started trying to fill with the wrong thing and that piece will show up.

Nathan [00:23:19] So what do we do? First, we recognize that making a mistake doesn’t make us mistake. That our mistakes describe us, but they don’t define us. So absolutely. I made mistakes throughout middle school and high school and into college and as an adult. And those describe my journey, right? Making poor choices with pornography describes my journey. It describes why I don’t have full freedom with smartphones. It describes why I don’t play video games. It describes those things, but it doesn’t define me. What defines me as being a son of God, being made new in Christ. It describes my need, but it doesn’t define my condition. My condition is now saint, forgiven and redeemed in Christ, and that can be all of our conditions. And then that’s the condition we work from. That when you go into college, it’s not to become a graduate, it’s do God’s will. Maybe that will be graduating. Some of you might step out of college. You might go one semester, six semesters, I don’t know, and go, you know what? Right now, the Lord’s calling me into this job, this mission, this service, this opportunity. And school needs to take a back burner. And that’s going to be okay because this journey doesn’t define your purpose. The path does. So it’s not about the destination of once I get my degree, once I make this income, once I buy that house, wants to get married to that person, then things will be good and I’ll finally begin to matter. Nope, you matter right now and you can do all the things God has called you to do in this season as you are. You can be on a mission no matter your vocation.

Nathan [00:24:51] The second piece is to recognize our relationships will change, and that’s okay. The goal here is not hold on to everything as tight as you can. Instead it’s to trust the Lord with these relationships and pray. Do these people actually love me? Do they love the Lord first and foremost, and do they love me? Are they choosing my highest good for me? Not just giving me everything I want, not just kowtowing to my demands or my ultimatums or even delivering me ultimatums, but instead getting me help when I need it. Speaking words of hope and truth, calling me out when I make mistakes and being there to celebrate and to grieve whatever season I’m in. They’re there for that season, not just friends of convenience that become disposable, but friends of commitment, friends who love one another. And that’s what we want.

Nathan [00:25:34] In the third and final thing is recognize mistakes are going to happen. You will make some of them on purpose. You will know better. People will have warned you better. You will have even set up barriers and boundaries to not do it and you’ll do it. You don’t know why. Romans 7 is a thing. It’s because you have a sin condition, and even when you love Jesus, you might do this. It doesn’t mean you’re not saved. It means you have an opportunity to trust the Lord, even in your brokenness. Do you trust the Lord enough to repent, to tell someone to get the help you need? Because if you do, then you’re trusting and following Jesus and you just happen to be a broken person at the same time. But if you claim it and say No, I think God’s going to pick up the bill. I’m going to live this sin because I want it. You’ve eaten the fruit and you’re claiming your own destiny. And that’s a dangerous, scary spot. You don’t even love yourself at that point. And that self-loathing is only going to grow till you give it to Jesus and you listen to His love for you and allow your heart to be renewed.

Nathan [00:26:24] So, graduates, hear me. I’m excited for you for this season. And please know that you’re this path that you’re walking is going to be a daily choice. Yes, go get those degrees. Yes, make awesome friends and keep the good ones and recognize you don’t have to live in your mistakes. Because as new creations, we can go and step into this world God’s placed us in. We were sinners were saved by grace for good works that He’s prepared for us to do. You guys are saved for the world, not from it. And I’m excited to see how He’s going to use you in this world to lead us to bring encouragement and His light and to live out the calling He’s got on you.

Nathan [00:26:59] So thank you for letting me be a part of this conversation with you parents. I hope you feel encouraged as you watch your young people grow. I hope you get this time to recognize just how much you’ve been through to get to this spot. This is the turning of a page. It is a new chapter. And it’s exciting. Yes, there’s sadness. There’s things we gave up, including having our little humans around all the time. But it’s beautiful and it’s wonderful. And it’s part of God’s plan of growing up, these young people into big people, into adults who can trust and follow Him and help others do the same. So thank you for being faithful in that journey and raising up your kids in the way they should go. If this was encouraging, would you share it with somebody? Would you send it out to others with their graduates? And would you join me next week as we continue this conversation about how we can love God and use tech.

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