My senior year of high school, I tore the meniscus in my knee virtually in half. Much to my chagrin, it was not in a glorious football injury, but rather during the last rehearsal of the play that I was in, when I jumped over a six inch bench. The next moment, my knee exploded, and I had a knee surgery two weeks later (after I had hobbled through 8 performances while on a lot of pain killers). When I went into the surgery, I did not know whether I would just be getting parts of my meniscus cut out (which would involve a three to four week healing process, allowing me to get back to cross country skiing for my senior year), or whether my meniscus would be fully repaired (which would be an over 4 month healing process, including 10 weeks on crutches). I woke up from that surgery with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be walking, much less running, for quite a long time.
I do know one thing. I only cried once during that whole ordeal. It wasn’t when I tore my knee, nor was it when I found out that I wouldn’t get my senior year of cross country skiing, nor when the crutches were handed to me for the first time. It wasn’t even during the grueling and often painful rehab process. No, the only time I cried was when I was told that I could not play broomball and my church’s winter retreat, and that I would just have to sit and listen to the sounds of laughter and love emanating from the ice rink. I crutched back to the cabin and just sobbed.
See to me, that was the moment where it seemed like my life had a period. Logically, I knew that I would heal up, I would be able to have fun with my friends, and I would be able to live a better life with a fully repaired knee, but I couldn’t see past that brief moment of what I perceived to be an end. I was fully caught up in what I was missing that I forgot to look forward to the life I had ahead.
Little did I know that it was a comma, and not a period.
Today I want to center around that theme of living for commas, and not for periods. I think that is times of transition, most certainly like the one I am about to go through of leaving Northwestern, we want to look at these times as the cessation of something that we held dear. So often, I think that in order for me to move to the next big adventure, something has to stop. I look back at my past few weeks, and all of the things that are ending: classes, the speech team, living in the Foundry, leading YoungLife, my job in the admissions office, tour guiding, and so many more. But then I think about the more important things that I am leaving behind: my memories, and most importantly, my dear dear friendships. No matter any way that I slice it, my life as I know it is irrevocably changing, and that is absolutely terrifying because it is so so easy to think of it as an end.
But thinking of these things as an end destroys the value that they continually have. These things aren’t disappearing, they are merely transforming from present interactions to memories an parts of who you are. See when we get caught up in the constancy of endings, we forgot to move forward.
My football coach in high school, Mr. Benson had a saying. You can do anything on earth for seven seconds. His theory was that no matter what life presents to you, if you set your mind to it and you want it bad enough, you can do anything for seven seconds. But in the concept of football, those seven seconds never ended. You had to deliberately choose to approach the next set of seven seconds with the same ferocity that you approached the last set. If you can continually do that, not only will you win, but you will become alive. It is very easy to stop at the end of those seven seconds and say that you have completed your job. But we always have the chance to go one more time, changing the period at the end of those seven seconds into a comma that allows you to continue.
To me, that is the definition of what living for commas and not periods means.
I am going to take a moment right here to be very clear. I am going to be very very sad when I leave Northwestern. I can truly say that Northwestern has given me an incredible breadth of opportunities that has allowed me to shape myself into the man that I am today. I literally cannot imagine who I would be without Northwestern’s influence. And maybe today, that is not where you are at. Seniors, maybe you are thinking that you can’t wait to leave this place. Maybe this place has hurt you, or is hurting you, or never was right for you in the first place. That is perfectly ok. But this message is still for you. Whenever we approach the conclusion of a life event or period in life, we naturally want to progress from it in the best way possible; often times by cutting it off and attributing it to the past. I am not advocating that we need to continually live in the past or that we should not move towards the future. However, I need to communicate today that our culture of perceiving ends as periods and not commas does not allow us to pursue what it truly means to be alive.
One of my favorite bible stories to apply to my own life is at the beginning of Acts.. To set the scene, Jesus has just died and been resurrected. For 40 days, he wanders around with his disciples, and then, in the first 11 verses of Acts, he returns to heaven.Then, in one of my favorite moments to imagine from the Bible, the disciples sit and stare towards the heavens, seemingly waiting for Him to return. If I was sitting there, among the disciples, I would have just been staring up the sky and waiting for him to come back. And that is exactly what they did. In fact they just continued to stare at the sky, until some angels had to come down and tell them that Jesus wasn’t coming back (this time). And so the disciples sat and looked around at each other, seemingly at the end of their ministry.
Yet, it was in this moment that their ministry truly started. What could have very clearly been a period was once again a comma, as these men were about to embark on a journey that would affect the entire world through their testimony. Rather than accept Jesus leaving as a period, they started something anew with the inspiration of a conclusion.
However, today, I fear that we live in a time a periods rather than commas. It is so easy to approach times of transition with an “end” in mind, rather than the continuation of what has already been happening. When I leave Northwestern, it may be the conclusion of my time here, but it will not be the end of what it has taught me.When I leave all of my activities, they do not end, but rather continue along with the memories and work that I put into them to let them grow and thrive. When we move on to our next steps, no matter what they are, they are simply that: next steps on a path that draws through our entire lives.
See the more we look at the conclusion of events as periods and not as commas, the more we defeat our own purposes in pursuing those events in the first place. If college was just something to get through, why was I here in the first place? If you are struggling with the conclusion of something, I ask you to search into yourself, and ask why. Why does that conclusion mean an end?
And then the big topic. Death. I can feel the wheels turning in all of your heads. But Adam, you say, when we die, that is the ultimate period. Everything stops.
But thankfully, because of our faith in Christ Jesus, it doesn’t. See that is the crux of our faith. We are Christians because God promises us a comma and not a period. That is the life that we are called to live. A period stops. A comma continues. God has changed the ultimate period to just one more comma, creating the worlds longest run-on sentence.
So what does this all mean? Why is it so essential that we transition from periods to commas? Simple. A comma allows life through conclusion. Think back to your high school grammar classes. A comma exists to allow two related thoughts to be joined together to make one coherent thought. A period on the other hand forever separates one thought from the next. Thus, following this metaphor, if our lives are a story that we are writing, each and every time we feel like we have to put a period, we disconnect from that moment and our forced to transition to the next thought. This jarring transition can cause pain, loss, or simply confusion. Looking at conclusions like periods causes discord and separates us from what is truly important: what happened before the conclusion.
Meanwhile a comma allows us to continually add to ourselves, and move down the path that has been laid in front of us since our very first moments. Transitions add more life events to an already solid base that continues to move through our lives, rather than breaking off pieces of who we are in order to add the next piece of our lives. In my opinion, Commas create life, where periods separate it.
Maybe for you, this all makes sense, and you are already looking at life in terms of a series of commas. If that is the case, that’s fantastic. However, if I am being honest, the idea for “A comma, not a period” came to me because I default on a period rather than a comma. As I am entering into serious transitions at the moment, I am feeling an incredible sense of loss. I need this reminder as much as anyone. And so, if today you have the ability to add a comma and just take the next step, I ask you to lend a hand to me and so many others who are struggling in this moment. I want to be a comma, but I am comfortable in using periods.
When I look back at my knee surgery, I see a comma. Instead of doing cross country skiing, I threw myself into the speech team, dedicating my time to developing my skills of communication, which I used for the last four years on Northwestern’s speech team. By not playing broomball, I learned how much I crave communities of faith, encouragement, and fun, which lead to me signing on to lead Young Life despite never hearing about it before college. My knee surgery was one of the pivotal moments of my life to that point, and I never could have imagined how it could lead to so many more things. God made it a comma even when all I could think about was how it was a period.
I believe God is calling us to use commas.
The disciples stood on the hill where Jesus had ascended, took a breath, and took a period, Jesus leaving and changed it into a comma to transform the world.
I believe that we can do that as well.