To each and every student I had the privilege of serving as a youth pastor, high school teacher, tutor, or physical trainer
I remember the evening of my high school graduation with photographic clarity. From the blue button-down dress shirt I wore to the ceremony to the blue skater shoes I wore to the grad party; from singing that duet with my sister (cheesy, I know, but we made several moms cry) to receiving my diploma while my SAT scores were announced to the audience (I know, seriously!); from the picture I took with my 6’7-tall friend before the ceremony to the flurry of ones I took with family, friends, and teachers afterwards; from the book I received from my uncle to our family’s celebratory dinner at Asia Buffett…I remember almost all of it. Even the congratulatory phone call I received from my younger cousin who couldn’t be there is etched in my memory (mainly because I remember thinking, “Whoa, his voice finally cracked!”).
I remember exhibiting a dual sentiment of relief and excitement. Relief, that high school was over. Excitement, that college was ahead. I was forward-thinking, rather idealistically focused on the horizon: I would go to college, work hard, get good grades, earn a biology degree, and jump right into my career field of choice – research zoology – with no close-t0-no viscosity. While doing so, I would engage in sports (possibly join the tennis team), become part of a life-long social circle, go to parties, learn to surf and play the guitar, have beach days and bonfires, and find a cute girlfriend. Living for the glory of God wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. To be honest, it wasn’t in the attic of my mind, either. I was consumed with my ambitions and dreams, and no one would get in my way. At least, that’s what I thought.
I was 19 then. I’m 32 now. As a type, my two kids are watching “Sprout” on the other end of the living room, while my wonderful wife of almost seven years is fixing up a spaghetti dinner in the kitchen adjacent. We’re currently on a one-week vacation about two hours away from Silicon Valley, where we currently reside. My high school diploma sits on display in my mom’s home office…right next to my college diploma. For the record, not everything has changed since my high school graduation. I somehow maintained the same basic physique, and still sport the classic sunglasses/flip-flops combo (though I did get rid of the earring and backwards baseball cap). I still own the cross-court forehand that I did back when I played on my high school tennis team. If anything, I’m a better athlete now than I was then, especially after picking up distance running during my last year of college. So no, the stage of the being a gray-haired sage hasn’t arrived just yet.
But I’m no longer in my youth. Those crucial, formative years have passed. My time as a UC San Diego college student was over in a mere three years. The freshman year roommate I was paired with by the Revelle dorm administration – he’s got a wife and two kids of his own, and he and I are still good friends. In fact, there are a handful of folks who I met during my first two years of college with whom I remain in touch. But as for my main social circles during those years – frankly, I’m not a part of anymore. In fact, I haven’t had any contact with ninety-five percent of those old friends in years, aside from the occasional birthday greeting (thank you, Facebook!). I’m presently integrated into new relational network, which is how life works sometimes. As for my career? I do indeed work in Silicon Valley, but not at a university or research institute like many of my old friends and teachers expected. I work at a local church – Grace Bible Fellowship, to be exact. Yes, I’m in pastoral ministry, and have been so for the last decade. It’s as satisfying as it is strenuous; I’m currently pursuing a doctorate for further training. A bit of a far cry from research zoology, I’d say.
What I’m saying is: you don’t know what the days of your youth will be like. And they’ll be over before you know it.
Those eleven years between the year of my high school graduation and my 30th birthday were as fleeting as they were formative. And I say this with no regrets, for life as I know it is good – better than I ever thought it would be. Without question, I’ve made my share of mistakes. I could talk for hours and hours about all of the stupid things that I did, all of the unwise decisions I made, and all of the character flaws characteristic of me during those years. But regrets? None. I’d be full of them, had God Himself not intervened. But He took a hold of my heart before that first day of college and never let go – He saved me, I repented of my sinful walk, and devoted my life to my Savior, including all the days of my young manhood. I can with integrity that I gave the years of my youth to Him and to Him alone. Thus, the present life to which my youth catapulted me – and all that it consists of – is the life that the Creator Himself constructed. I thank Him everyday for it.
I hope the same for will be true for you. I’ve had the unique and undeserved privilege of investing my labor in many of your lives – as a youth pastor, high school teacher, tutor, physical trainer, or all of the above. I’ve watched some of you become the sharpest of scholars – scoring 5’s on your AP’s and rightly receiving scholarships from big-name universities. I’ve watched others of you become exceptional athletes – now recruited by colleges because of how fast you run, how well you tackle, and how squarely you hit a baseball. I’ve watched yet others of you become exemplary individuals – mature beyond your years and true servants to those around you. I’m proud of what you’ve all accomplished, and excited about where you seem to be headed. At the same time, there’s a sense of sobriety that I have, knowing that where you’ll be ten years from now has already been appointed, and you aren’t in control of how it will all turn out (though you are responsible for your own choices). So it’s my desire to entrust you with a charge from the wisdom of the Bible – an two-fold exhortation from Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8, preached from a sage to the youth of his day.
First, rejoice in the days of your youth (Ecclesiastes 11:9). Believe it or not, your enjoyment of life is up to you. Whether you smile or stomp over your college major, your future job (or jobs), the food you’ll eat, the car you’ll drive, the clothes you’ll wear, the roommates you’ll live with, and the social circle you’ll be a part of, is a choice that God has given you. Work with all your might, but don’t give into the pressure of achievement. Aim high, but don’t give into the philosophy of entitlement. Most of all, remember that complaining life is wholly unproductive. The truth is, the Creator didn’t make a mistake with you, your existence, or your circumstances. So laugh a lot, smile a lot, stretch out your arms when you wake up in the morning. There’s no better time to do so. Rejoice, young man, in the days of your youth.
Second, remember your Creator in your youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1). Life life to the fullest, but do so in full acknowledgement and respect of the One who gave it to you and can also take it away from you. As much as you may have achieved, forget not that you’re still creation. What becomes of you is, well, not ultimately up to you. There is indeed a sovereign one above the sun who orchestrates everything that happens under the sun. The lie of the world is that dedicating your youth to the Lord will come at the price of true enjoyment of it. Remember that there’s going to come a time when your body won’t be as strong, your mind won’t be as sharp or as flexible. Living vigorously for the Lord won’t be as easy as it used to be. So while you’re strong, sharp, and flexible, live entirely for the Creator – the God to whom you will answer for all that you’ve done, and who will bring every act of yours into judgment. Practical atheism is utter foolishness, for it seeks to ignore a truth embedded into every human soul. God is there – watching you, guiding you, evaluating you wherever you go and whatever you do. And He calls you into a true, genuine, living relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – who lived the perfect life that you couldn’t live, died the horrific death that you should have died, and offers eternal life that you don’t deserve to everyone who believes in Him. Give your life not to the indulgence of creation, but to an intimate relationship with the Creator. Only then will you truly live your life without regrets.
Congratulations to you all on your graduation!