I just watched Denzel Washington’s 2011 address to the graduates of UPenn. He invites his audience to take risks. He calls this “falling forward” and cautions against having something to fall back on. “Fall forward,” he says.

Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career—the most in the history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the home runs. Fall forward.

And then this. This is the part that stands out to me today,

[W]hat are you going to do with what you have? And I’m not talking how much you have. Some of you are business majors. Some of you are theologians, nurses, sociologists. Some of you have money. Some of you have patience. Some have kindness. Some have love. Some of you have the gift of long-suffering. Whatever it is… what are you going to do with what you have?

What you have are gifts. I hear in Denzel’s words the invitation to spend those gifts even if you have no idea what will come back, what will be accomplished, what difference delivering your gifts will make. I hear in his words the invitation not to be shy with what you have but to offer it, deliver it with abandon. Scatter it. Spread it. 

Don’t worry about using it up. Like water in a well, more will come. That’s how gifts work. You can spend gifts, but you can’t spend them down. They flow through us. That is their nature.

“Imagine,” says Denzel,

you’re on your deathbed—and standing around your bed are the ghosts representing your unfilled potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. And they’re standing around your bed. Angry. Disappointed. Upset. “We came to you because you could have brought us to life,” they say. “And now we go to the grave together.”

Do not let that happen.  Take risks. Fall forward. Spend your gifts. That is what love is.

Photo credit: Peter Branning