I wrote this post a few years ago, but I feel like it is timely today.
This last week, I had the opportunity to revisit my high school graduation. As a high school teacher, I get to participate in the graduation ceremony each year. This year, because the students at AHS are known for bringing beach balls to the ceremony, the teachers were dispersed throughout the rows of students and I had a unique opportunity to “relive” my own high school graduation. I listened attentively to the speakers and paid careful attention to the conversations of the graduates. And then I reflected on my own experience with graduation and realized a few things.
Despite our best efforts to make the ceremony important for the graduates, the graduates are not paying attention to the speeches. At my own high school graduation, I remember vaguely the two students who spoke and I remember that my friends and I made fun of one of the speakers and wondered why she was given the opportunity to speak in the first place. And then there was the keynote speaker. I don’t even remember who the person was, just that they had something to do with a local grocery store. And as I sat and listened to the student speeches on Friday night, I realized how insightful these speeches really were. But I also realized that the students on the field weren’t listening because they were too worried about a few things.
The first thing that graduates are concerned about is whether or not they look stupid in their mortar board and gown. The girls are worried about whether or not the silly hat will make their hair look weird, and the guys are wondering if they have to zip up the robe all the way, bummed that no one will get to see their cool tie pin under the robe. The graduates are also concerned about falling flat on their faces when they walk up to the podium to receive their diploma. I heard a student behind me slowly becoming more and more anxious as it came time for her row to go up front. But then, amazingly, she survived the walk across the stage without any unfortunate mishaps. And lastly, they’re concerned about forgetting what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to go. One of the students in our youth group turned down the wrong row, but she was good-natured about the whole thing.
And I realized as I sat there that high school graduation is this weird transition moment. Students are so used to being told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. From kindergarten on, they’re taught how to walk down the hallways like penguins, they’re told that they have to ask for permission to use the restroom, and they have to raise their hand to speak. The whole experience is so unlike reality that it’s really weird when I think about it. But as a teacher, I understand that what we’re attempting to teach them is how to be polite and responsible and all of that.
But after high school graduation, then what? I remember feeling so lost after I graduated from high school and college and wondered what I was supposed to do next. No one was going to tell me what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. And because of that, I had to learn some lessons on my own. And those are the lessons that I would like to pass on to this year’s graduating class.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews outlines four important lessons for each of us in chapter 10, verses 19-25. Part of this scripture has been incredibly important to me since I was a freshman in college. I had the opportunity to be involved in a Bible study that used verses 24-25 as their key scripture: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I only hope that for each of our graduates that they will find a group of people as encouraging as those I got to spend a few years with in my early college years. I also hope that they will learn and apply these God given lessons at a much younger age than I did.
Keep Close to God
The first lesson is to keep close to God. I have found that I absolutely have to dwell in God’s presence daily. Brother Lawrence, in The Practice of the Presence of God, talks about the importance and the reality of being in God’s presence throughout our day, that we are able to pray in every moment of our daily lives. But we also need to have that time set apart for God daily. That looks different for each of us. For me, that looks like sitting on the couch, trying to keep Buddy off of me, journaling and reading my Bible. Journaling is the way that I talk to God. When I pray, I often get distracted by all of the things that I have to do that day: make copies, e-mail a parent, deal with the kid who is just so obnoxious. So, journaling helps me to stay focused. For each of you, you must find what that time looks like. I can’t tell you specifically how to spend that time with God, but I can encourage you to figure out the way that you best talk with God and learn from His Word. In Hebrews 10:22, the writer says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” We must draw near to God daily. We must dwell in His presence. Without this, anything else that I have to say today is pointless. We must start by keeping close to God.
Keep in Touch
The second lesson is to keep in touch. I know there’s that cheesy acronym that we write in yearbooks: KIT. I looked through my high school yearbooks a few weeks ago and found that several people had written KIT and their phone numbers. I wonder if today students write their screen names for Twitter or Facebook and KIT. But anyway. The important thing is for each of you to find the people in your lives who will hold you accountable and encourage you. You must find fellow Christians who will hold you up. I’ve learned the lesson of not having strong Christians around me. When Garry and I first moved to Virginia, we really didn’t know why God called us to move. We thought, to be completely honest, that God was giving us a vacation. It was like we thought He was saying, “Good job being obedient so far. Now go to Virginia and take a vacation.” That is probably one of the most dangerous places to be in, thinking that we’re on spiritual vacation. And so, with that attitude, we took a vacation from God. Like King David, we wound up doing things that we weren’t supposed to be doing because we weren’t where God called us to be. Once we realized that our spiritual lives were suffering, we knew that we had to get plugged in with fellow brothers and sisters. And I’m sure that you all assume that happened. We began building strong relationships with other Christians, God called Garry into ministry, and our spiritual lives completely changed for the better. The writer of Hebrews encourages, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).So, we have to keep in touch with other believers. We have to find people who will spur us on and encourage us and hold us accountable.
Keep Your Eyes Open
The third lesson is to keep our eyes open. I’ve learned this lesson twice in my life. Once was when I was a second year teacher and the second was at a Bible study several years ago. As a new teacher, it’s easy to walk through life with blinders on. We get so focused on every lesson, every student, and everything else involved in teaching that we forget to pay attention to anything else in our lives. I remember during my second year teaching, I went to the bathroom one morning before school with only five minutes before class started. My mind was focused on everything that I had to do that day, but when I walked into the restroom, one of our first year teachers was standing there crying. I thought to myself: I have two choices. I can go on with my day and take care of my own business, or I can ask her what’s wrong. Thankfully, I made the right choice and asked her what was wrong. She began to explain the stress she was under as a new teacher and in her own personal life. And I just listened; I didn’t worry about what I had to do in my classroom before the kids came in. I spent the time listening to someone else in need. And God blessed that conversation. For four years, we had a great relationship as fellow teachers because I chose to keep my eyes open and listen to God’s leading. I learned this same lesson again a few years ago. I was in a Bible study, and our leader directed us to pray for God to help us keep our eyes open. I had never considered that prayer before, but I realized how important it was to pray that prayer every day. Our society bombards us with so many things that distract us: our phone, our TV, our computer. And we can choose to allow those things to dictate what we do, or we can choose to keep our eyes open to what God is doing around us. In the Message, Eugene Peterson interprets Hebrews 10:24 to say, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.” This is the way that we live out the two Greatest Commandments to love God and love others. We must keep our eyes open so that we can love others and help them when they are in need.
Keep Hope Alive
The fourth lesson is to keep hope alive. I’m sorry to say, but life does not get easier after high school. It gets harder. Life is going to throw you curveballs, but you cannot give up hope. There have been plenty of times in my life when things seemed pretty bleak. I really did not know how God was going to pull me out. But I trust in His promises. The Bible is a book of promises, written to His children. Anytime we see a promise written to someone else, we can substitute their name with our name. God’s promises are eternal, and we must trust that He always makes good on His promise. If He promises provision, He will provide. If He promises comfort, He will comfort. If He promises that He will never leave us, then we must trust that He never will. I love what Eugene Peterson writes for Hebrews 10:22: “Let’s keep a firm grip on the promise that keeps us going. He always keeps His word.” He always keeps His word. God will always bring us through, no matter what.
So, I encourage you today to begin to find a way to apply these lessons in your own life: keep God close, keep in touch, keep your eyes open, and keep hope alive.