Deuteronomy 29:16-19 (NIV)For some reason I can happily watch as my five-year-old “graduates” from preschool without feeling overwhelmingly nostalgic. But sitting in church today during Baccalaureate Sunday, when we honored outgoing high school seniors, had me wrapped up in my own memories.
You yourselves know how we lived in Egypt and how we passed through the countries on the way here. You saw among them their detestable images and idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold. Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.
When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.
The five-year-old is the middle child, which means I’ve sent one to kindergarten before, and will do so twice more. That made me no less happy to celebrate, but it does temper the “my baby is getting so big!” wave of emotions. I got to know a few members of this high school class during their freshman year when I stepped in to fill a void in the confirmation leadership team. To see those same students standing before the congregation today, just a few years later, seemed deeply significant — even though I actually had very little to do with any of them during the rest of their high school career.
Adding layers to my sentiment is knowing I once was figuratively in their shoes, but literally in the same physical place. The church bulletin listed names of students who earned one of our congregation’s scholarships, and it was quite easy to picture those of my vintage accepting their awards. Then one of the pastors read a poem before the traditional distribution of the pocket crosses to each member of the graduating class.
This brought up two very specific, personal memories. One was the day I accepted my own pocket cross. Following the service, in the church basement, my grandfather (in town for graduation weekend) showed me a silver coin my grandmother gave him on their wedding day. He claimed to have kept it in his pocket ever since, which would explain why it was as smooth as a stone undisturbed for years at the river’s edge.
I took to keeping my pocket cross in my wallet, and did so every day for a little more than five years. I replaced it nearly eleven years ago with a cross Kristie gave me on our wedding day. That was the second memory I conjured today. My wedding day, much like college or high school graduation, is one of the few times in life where I truly felt I was standing firmly where I wanted to be, gazing out toward whatever the future might hold.
But of those three dates, never did I feel more full of myself than at the time of high school graduation. I was very confident about how I’d be carrying myself in college, what my life would look like to others and how I’d be able to expertly juggle making new friends while keeping the old. I knew what role faith and church would play in my daily business. I had questions, sure. And I was preemptively nostalgic for the friends I’d be leaving behind, not to mention overly dramatic and (huge shocker) prone to writing at length about the experience as if we were the only teens ever set loose from high school, that ours was the only group of friends ever split up to enroll in a variety of universities.
College graduation is different. Anyone who has lived in a dorm learns quickly the different nature of the bond between college friends and high school pals. Most people leave college quickly enough to still have vivid memories of all the promises made at high school graduation and broken a few months later. Anyone not going off to grad school quickly learns how easy it was to transition from high school to college when the present option is the actual Real World of jobs, apartments and making your own food every day.
So indeed there is something special about leaving high school. In addition to seeing the kids at church today, I recently followed along via social media as the students I met as fourth-graders (in our old church, two life phases ago) also graduated this year. Seeing all of these young people in mortarboards doesn’t exactly make me feel old, but it does remind me of the inevitability of time.
My prayer for all of these young people is to be self confident, but not to persist in going their own way when God is clearly trying to lead them in a different direction. There are most definitely times to stand up for what you believe, but those confrontations are best left to the interpersonal realm. Insisting I know more about life’s direction than what God has obviously set forth has been a losing proposition over and again.
I could rack up a list of personal experiences, but that would feed the lie that my history is more significant than anyone else’s, or that it’s possible to truly learn from another person’s mistakes. It seems falling over and getting back up are essential to growth and development, and while I pray these graduates, and also my own children, are spared serious pain and heartbreak, I also know it’s not my position to guard any of them fully from what the world might bring.
We also this morning sang the hymn from which this project takes its name. (At least everyone else did, I was running late and dropping kids in the nursery and Sunday school.) It is, as I have noted, my college hymn, and for lack of a better conclusion to this entry, I offer the hymn’s final verse that wanders in and out of my mind on a near-daily basis:
O God, our help in ages past,A prayer for June 9:
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
Lord, I hope I never get too full of myself, never forget the importance of humility, never decide I’m the captain and refuse to seek direction. I pray not just for your guidance, but to continually break down the walls I build and enable me to see clearly the path you intend me to follow. Help me as my children grow to walk the line between careful concern and overprotection. Let me be ever mindful that experience is my teacher, not theirs. And keep me always under your watchful eye, my help and hope as long as I breathe. Amen.