Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. His book, The Last Lecture
, is based on his final lecture at the university after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given just months to live. He died in 2008 at the age of 47, a few months later. His lecture
, viewed by over 10 million people, left people inspired, smiling, and uplifted. Most of us will never have such fame, but we might still benefit from pondering this. What would we do if we knew we only had six months left to live? What would I say if I had one last lecture to give to my students?
Greg Beale, my professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, encouraged us to think about our mortality once in awhile. He thought it a healthy practice that would help us live more meaningful lives. I agree. Randy Pausch would have, too. In The Last Lecture, Pausch encourages us to dream big, be strong in adversity, and help others reach their dreams. I would add one compelling and vital component to my own last lecture: Trust in God. Our trust in an omnipotent and loving God gives us freedom. We are freed to love like Christ.
During a recent travel course entitled “Sustainable Tropical Agriculture” I taught in Guatemala, we read parts of Compassion by Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison. While we studied food, faith, poverty, culture, and missions, this book challenged us to see what it means to love like Christ — to show compassion and sacrifice. We were urged to seek compassion instead of competition, giving to the poor not our used and worn but our best and newest. We were reminded that gratitude is a response to grace. Why should we live like this? Because this is the way of Christ: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). To imitate Christ, to make him Lord, to put our lives in his hands — all of this requires trust.
Many times during our trip in Guatemala, students would ask: “Where are we going?” “When will we get there?” “What will it be like?” We learned to let go of our grip of control, trusting God and those who were guiding us. We learned to enjoy the freedom of not knowing what time it was and to laugh and delight in the present. We learned to live simple lives out of a small suitcase. The absence of the Internet allowed us to experience conversations and relationships with no distractions. We learned to soak up information joyfully and to delight in teaching one another. A student noted: “One thing that has stuck with me is the beauty of simplicity. There are so many unnecessary things in the States that we make necessities. I would like to strive to just live more simply and focus more on compassion and patience."
We saw amazing scenery and beauty, panoramas beyond what the best camera could capture. We cleared land on steep slopes that would barely be able to eke out corn and beans even after great toil. Beauty, poverty, and pain were present together. We worked with the farmers who taught us joyfully and with patience. We learned to use simple tools to prepare for planting. We felt gratitude. We learned from these farmers how to be strong in adversity.
I do want us to dream big, be strong in adversity, and help others reach their dreams, like Pausch exhorts. But, I want us to do this because we are compelled by God’s love for us, compelled to love like Christ. The conclusion of a life like this is a life of gratitude, freedom, and joy. That is what I want for my children and my students. I want them to trust God as they walk through beauty and pain. I want them to embrace the mystery that for now we know in part but someday we will know fully.
I want to live out my last lecture.