On Saturday, Grace Community School graduated the Class of 2023. This special group of 79 seniors will bring God’s Word and truth to colleges, universities, and wherever He has for them as they leave here. The following is my graduation charge to them.
As usual, I’ll be taking the summer off from blog-writing duties. I hope you have a fantastic summer, and we’ll see you in the fall. God bless you, and thank you for being patient with me as I try to flesh out what I discern God is telling me on these pages. If you think I’m messing it up at times, that’s on me. When I say something wise and profound, that’s the Holy Spirit.
I’m grateful for all of you.
You are a special class to me and to us. I was visiting with Mr. Witt the other day, and he was commenting that so many of the things we just do now in the high school you all helped pioneer: the legacy system as it exists today, the idea of chapel four days a week, our current structure of first-day orientation at the beginning of school, and chapel practicum. You all helped make that happen for our school with your leadership, and we’re grateful for you all leading out in those areas.
With your graduating class, we also instituted the Grace Lifer pin, worn at graduation for students who have attended Grace for their entire K-12 experience. One of the reasons we started with this class is because Lauren and others initiated the conversation. Another reason is that so many of you have actually been here the entire time.
I’m ending my 20th year as the head of school at Grace. I have had the privilege of being your head of school during that entire 14-year experience, which means you have heard from me a lot over the years, probably more consistently than any single voice in this school. And, so, it’s probably fitting that my charge to you is the last voice you hear as you leave this place, where all of you spent your high school years, and many of you spent your entire childhood.
This year, we’ve been talking about being Transformed by Truth, as Romans 12:2 tells us, not being conformed to the patterns of this world, but being transformed by the renewing of your mind, by letting the Lord change the way you think about the world around you. There are commencement ceremonies happening all around the country right now in high schools and colleges. We live in a broken, distorted culture, and graduating seniors are hearing things from probably sincere, but still very misguided, commencement speakers all over the country that, frankly, just aren’t true. And, since you have been and are being transformed by truth, I’m going to share with you three of these untruths as a catalyst for reinforcing the truth that you have been given and had fortified in you all your lives, in your homes, your churches, and your schools, truth that I want to remind you of and leave you with as I charge you now.
- The first untruth (another word for that is “lie”) is about truth itself, and it is that you should go out there and “Find your own truth”- Throughout your life you will hear the pervasive notion that the truth is inside you, maybe to be discovered by searching your feelings, or going with your gut. You’ll be told that someone else’s truth is different from yours, and you have to let them find theirs, as you’re finding your own. The kernel of wisdom in this line of thinking is that we all perceive and interpret reality through the lens of our experiences, but hear me in this: reality is still reality, and it doesn’t change because I believe it to be one way or another. If I step off a building, gravity doesn’t care very much whether my gut tells me I’ll fall or not, and God’s moral law and the rest of his truth is the same way.
Our hearts and our gut routinely lie to us, our emotions deceive us, and if we aren’t anchored to something or someone outside ourselves, a reality that’s greater than any or all of us, we’ll all be floating aimlessly, purposelessly, pursuing something that will never really satisfy, or even worse, anchor our lives to a sinking ship masquerading as our truth. As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, this is all vanity, chasing after wind. No one can really live as if your truth and mine are different, and anyone who tells you that is, ironically, making a final or absolute claim about truth, and therefore just deceiving themselves.
You have been shown that truth is not in a thing, but a person. Truth is rooted in the nature and character of God, and this is really good news, because it means that your anchor is someone infinite and all-powerful and transcendent and who actually loves you and wants your best, which, let’s face it, is a way better anchor than trusting your gut. Make God your anchor all your life, and find your truth in the only source of truth.
- “Do what makes you happy”- this is the worst life goal ever, the worst thing you could possibly do. Following happiness is an exercise in futility- surely you have enough life experience by now to realize you will never be happy all the time. Instead, pursue love, which is an end in itself, and joy, defined as knowing exactly who and whose you are in Christ (which, incidentally, is a byproduct of loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself- meaning that, if you love like God calls you to love, you get joy as a byproduct, a gift).
Love is the most powerful force in the universe, more powerful than death. Love conquered death, and love transcends death. Love is not primarily a feeling, but the conscious, willful decision to be all for another. Love is sacrifice, and it brings pain and suffering, because no one is easy to love in a Genesis 3 world, and everyone will break your heart at some point in life, as you will break theirs, even if that brokenness just comes from them getting sick or dying on you.
People are often afraid to love like that, because they’re afraid of the pain, and they’re equally afraid to admit they are loved like that, because it takes vulnerability. But, there’s no joy and nothing worth living about life without that love. Joy and love survive tragic illness, the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or a child, anything you can imagine. Happiness survives none of these things. And, you can only love like this by realizing and experiencing how much you are truly loved by the God who loves you, a God who wasn’t afraid of pain, who wasn’t afraid to give His most precious son, His all, to conquer death through love. Choose joy through love over happiness every time.
- The final lie is that: “You can be anything you want to be.” You can’t. I’m a pretty good head of school. If I tried to cut you open and remove your spleen, or design a building anyone here would try to live in, people would die. There are many, many things you will fail miserably at. You were not made to be well-rounded. God made you to be distinctively “out-of-round.” You will be great at what God called you to do, created you to do, and gave you a passion for- which may or may not be what you do for a living.
Just because you will fail at something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it, however. Finding the thing you don’t love and aren’t good at is almost as important as finding the thing you at which you excel. We’ve taught you to fail. Remember that you don’t grow just by failing; you grow by failing and learning.
The fact that you are out of round, that you can be great at some things and very, very bad at others means that God made you for community. Life is a team sport, and you have to do it together. This is a tight-knit class; you have learned to do life together, that God made you to need each other. Do NOT go away from here and forget that. The first thing you must do when you get to college or wherever it is you’re going is to find your people. They will be the ones who will encourage, support, and hold you fast to Jesus, as you hold them.
Here’s something others are saying at commencement ceremonies that IS true, just not how they mean it: “you will change the world.” Not because you are awesome, but because you are the deeply beloved of Jesus Christ, the heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, sons and daughters of the Almighty God. Together, you and your people, the Church of Jesus Christ, have brought goodness and light, health and education, order, love, joy, and hope to the world. It’s all that ever truly has and all that ever truly can, and now it’s your turn.
If you don’t remember anything else I tell you, remember this from writer Arthur Brooks. It’s simple, and brilliant:
Never mix those things up, and you’ll live well.