The Message In Your Misfortunes

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

Recently, in preparing the content for one of the chapters of the study guide I’m writing for my book, The God I Won’t Believe In: Facing Nine Common Barriers to Embracing Christianity, I came across this quote from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.

Justice Roberts was asked to give the commencement speech for his son’s graduating class, but the speech he gave was different than the advice and platitudes commonly given at such events. Rather than wishing them good luck, he essentially told them that he wished they would experience hardship, because of the important things which can only be learned through these experiences.

Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why.

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time,

I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

What John Roberts says here is true. Some of the most formative moments in my life have been as a result of experiencing pain and hurt from other people. Sometimes we develop our most deeply held convictions and values as a result of negative experiences.

In ministry, I know that some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been from negative examples and experiences, which I then determined not to replicate or perpetuate.

Sometimes we learn to treat people well, as a result of being treating poorly and realizing that it isn’t right.

If we are able to turn those negative experiences into positive lessons, rather than becoming bitter, it can be something that helps us grow more into the image of Christ.

This is why James is able to say: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

It’s why Paul is able to write that we, as Christians, rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but we can also “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

May the painful things we experience in this life be used by God to shape us more into the image of Christ, to the glory of God, and may it better equip us to show the compassion and love of Christ to others.


4 thoughts on “The Message In Your Misfortunes

  1. Great use of Scriptures by Paul and James to make your point Nick. They would have made for a grand commencement speech along this topic, but unfortunately and shamefully, according to my research, it seems it can be unlawful to do so, even here in the land of the free.
    ~Ryan in Parker, Colorado

      1. Thanks for replying Nick. It sounds like it could be a problem. Here’s what one credible website had to say:
        “Court has upheld the censoring of student graduation speeches
        It is not altogether clear how such varied precedents apply to students’ graduation speeches. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cole v. Oroville Union High School District (9th Cir. 2000), upheld a decision by high school officials in Oroville, California, rejecting a proposed student prayer and a proposed student speech at graduation ceremonies. The reasoning behind the court’s decision was that both the prayer and the speech were attempts to proselytize that would involve the school in violations of the establishment clause by making it appear that the school was endorsing the students’ religious views. The school district was following its established policy of clearing all such speeches with the principal beforehand.

        This Ninth Circuit Court came to a similar decision in Lassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District (9th Cir. 2003). In that case, the principal had previewed the speech of a graduating high school valedictorian and concluded that the speech was proselytizing. The principal gave permission for the student to deliver a modified version of the speech and to distribute copies of his uncensored speech outside the graduation site. The court ruled that the principal’s censorship of the oral speech was appropriate: it avoided the appearance of the school’s sponsorship of such activities as well as the coercive effect on listeners who did not share the speaker’s religious beliefs.”

        “Court has established that students have limited free speech rights
        In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Court ruled that a junior high school could not invite a member of the clergy to deliver invocations or benedictions at a graduation without unduly coercing those in attendance to be subjected to religious exercises of which they might not approve.”

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