This past weekend I attended a high school graduation ceremony. As usual, there was a commencement speaker, only I cannot recall that he said anything memorable, anything particularly challenging to these students. Rather than be critical, though, I decided it would be better to think of what I would say to a graduating senior. I think it would be something like this:
Today is a milestone for you. Perhaps there is anxiety for some of you, and excitement, and this is a day that will playback in your mind for years to come; perhaps for others, it is a day you have long waited for – to be done with high school, off to college, with no looking back. But I hope you will take a moment now to consider what you will face in the coming years, in fact, in the rest of your life. These can be summed up in three “P”s.
First, you will face great promise. It’s exciting to consider what you will be doing in the next years of your life. You will choose a vocation, you will likely marry at some point, and you will begin a family. These things are exciting. God told Jeremiah “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, to give you a reason and a hope.” These are good words for you too. We sometimes think we are in control of events, but we are not. God is sovereign in our lives. If times are good, thank God. If times are not so good, praise Him anyway. He has you life in His hands. He is your hope, your life, your all – so don’t put your faith anywhere else, in any other person or thing, because they will fail you. God will not. Proverbs 3:5-6 are verses no doubt familiar to you: “Trust in the Lord with all you heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Only you can do what God has committed to you. That doesn’t mean it necessarily will be a big thing, or that you have one special extraordinary talent or gift; it means that only your particular mix of gifts and abilities will perfectly meet the need to which you are called. Your life is full of promise. There is good work for you to do.
Second, despite your desire to avoid it, you will face great peril. Don’t waste it. There will be trouble – perhaps emotional, physical, or otherwise. Betrayals. Sickness. Temptation. Workplace stresses. Innumerable things can and will beset you. This is life, as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “under the sun,” under the curse of sin. In these times, remember that “God works all things for the good of those who love him,” as the Apostle Paul says. He did not say that you will always know how those things are working for your good, only that they would work for your good. In these times, cling to God, and if you can’t cling to him with your emotions, cling to him with your mind. As the Psalmist so often does, remind yourself of God’s promises, preach to yourself the truth of the Word, hold on until easier times come. Keep the faith.
Third, remember that people matter more than things, more than places, more than anything but God. Nourish the relationships you now have. You have some good friends. Keep them. It will be difficult. Some you will lose track of. Some you may grow apart from. But there is nothing much better than a long and deep relationship with a good friend. We live in a changing world. I cannot anticipate the specific challenges you will face, nor can you. But you can face them with friends who can encourage you, support you, and challenge you, friends who can call you to account when you stray. God may be the great anchor of our lives, but our friends are the tangible face of God for us, a tangible incarnation of the Anchor. I hope some of you will still be dear friends 30 years from now. That will be steadying influence on your soul, on your life.
So, life is full of promise and peril, but in all of this, there are people. Embrace them. They matter because they are made in God’s image and we are made to live in relationship with them, to live for them. This seems natural for some, and yet for others it is a difficult thing to do. Do it with God.
So yes, this is a milestone day for you, and yet it is but one more step along a lifelong path illuminated by God’s truth or man’s foolishness. I pray that it is the prior. My hope is that it is.