last night we honored the graduating senior class at our wednesday night church service. we do this at church every may and i always look forward to it. the students lead the service with their own brand of worship, which is a taste of the world they inhabit…a world that despite being married to a student pastor, i tend to know almost nothing about. i love to watch their faces. what are they thinking? feeling? i can remember when some of these students were born, which kind of freaks me out. i prayed for them as we worshiped. so much promise and talent and life to live. what will happen to each of them? 9 out of 10 “churched” students leave their faith within two years of leaving home. will these students buck those odds? after the worship, a group of students performed a hysterical retrospective on their days in the student ministry at our church. then we saw pictures of the students. most of the kids had a baby picture, an elementary aged picture and then a current photo, which always strikes me as exactly how fast life really goes. click, click, click and they’re gone. i know i will feel that one day when my own kids graduate. three of them are already on the second click. i can feel it moving faster, and yet it is hard to remain aware of how precious and short the time is in the day to day. watching these kids’ pictures is a vivid reminder every year to me to be grateful for today.
after the pictures, taido gave a message that was specifically directed towards the seniors. he told them to remember that jesus will dwell with them always. every moment. no matter where they go. as he spoke, i remembered my own moment as a senior in this church. i can get back pretty easily to that moment in my life. high school was rough for me, and so unfortunately, i remember it more vividly than the happier moments of my life. my senior year was especially rocky. the schools in our town changed between 11th and 12th grade, and change does not come easily for me. not now, but especially not then. our church home actually moved from meeting at the ymca to our current church building during my senior year, so as the seniors gathered on stage after taido finished speaking to them, i thought about how i felt at that stage in my life. an almost eighteen year old, with my whole life ahead of me. i was busting at the seams to move on to the next chapter of my life. i remember feeling like i was going to explode onto the world with…well, i’m not sure with what, but i knew that the world had great things in store for me. i was optimistic that as soon as i could escape the oppression of high school, that life was really going to begin. real life…life to the full. here i come. i was heading to a school where no one knew me. completely starting over. i was ready.
still, i shed tears about leaving my church. this church. i didn’t even flinch on graduation day, but at the church service similar to the one we experienced last night, i cried like a baby. we all received bibles. (last night, the seniors received camelback water bottles. because you know, taido was in charge of the gift. he is a gearhead.) my parents both had written in mine, and if i got that bible out today and read the inscriptions, i would still cry. maybe even more because i can understand as a parent how they felt about sending me off into the world. the church was a place of refuge for me. i was and am very at home there. the relationships from church (mostly with people much older than me) have endured far longer than the ones i had at school. with only a couple of exceptions, i did not remain friends with anyone from school. it is so unfathomable when you are a senior to think that these people standing around you, with whom you spend hours and hours, might not really be your dearest friends for life. we cling to each other in the war zone that is north american adolescence, i suppose. in some ways, we are tighter than we will ever be with a group of people again. we share clothes. we fix each other’s hair. we drama together through boyfriends and girlfriends. we stand against teachers and parents and other adults who don’t understand us. we breathe together. in his book, hurt, chap clark talks about how students do this. he explains how students create these small cells of people in order to get through high school, and these cells are practically indestructible, impenetrable.
after the students received their water bottles last night, their parents and all the student ministry volunteers (read: saints) gathered around them and prayed for them. then these same volunteers, these people who give up their lives to break into those impenetrable cells, served communion. the body and the blood of christ sacrificed to give you life. you. and you. as these leaders, these people who love these students, served each one communion, i thought, can they communicate with their eyes and their simple words, “the body of christ, broken for you,” “the blood of jesus, shed for you,” all that is in their hearts for these graduating seniors…hold on to jesus, take him with you to school, make him your own, not a hand me down from your parents or pastors, but your own. use the next few years to grow that mustard seed of faith that you have right now into a mountain that will carry you and those you love through a lifetime and an eternity. don’t waste them. don’t squander these next precious years in a way you will hardly remember 20 years from now. live them fully in christ. go to the ends of the earth while you can and search for what jesus is doing there and join him.
at least, that’s what is in my heart. there are only two or three of these seniors that i feel connected to personally, but i know their names and parts of their stories through taido and the other volunteers. i have prayed for many of them by name during their time at our church. my favorite gift to give for graduation is a book (shocker) by john piper. it’s called don’t waste your life. it is a call to students to live for something more than themselves. to commit more fully to jesus before they are too entangled in the all the enticements of this world. before they are bogged down. i meet so many adults who wish they could go back to 18 and change some of the decisions they made. i don’t wish i could go back. i made a lot of mistakes. i fumbled through some hard things in college…oh how i loved to put myself at the center of a big drama. but in those four years after high school, by the grace of God, i made jesus my own…or rather, he made me his own. he took what i had, my penny’s worth of faith and helped me learn to cling to him. i am so grateful for that. really, i couldn’t ask for anything better for these sweet graduating seniors.