Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Open Letter to the Walnut Hill Class of 2014...and all my Connecticut kiddos

Just about month ago, as the loveliness and longing of Advent was unfolding almost too quickly for me to notice, I packed my bags and moved north. Leaving my students at Walnut Hill has just about torn my heart in in two. Oh how I have loved those precious, spunky, (sometimes prickly), wonderful ones! In this season of singleness, I can't begin to explain how much "mine" they have felt. The sweetest gift of grace from the very best Giver, so much more love than I could have ever asked or imagined. 

This post, originally penned sentimentally for my most recent grads, has become a note of deepest hope for them all--the several hundred students I've been honored to know and to lead these past five years, and especially the current high schoolers.

On our last meetings together, I reminded them of Paul's words to his beloved Timothy: "For I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted unto Him until that Day" (2 Timothy 1:12). And so I offer back those who were never truly mine, trusting that He is able to keep them steadfastly for His glory and their good.


Something about sending off the class of 2014 has messed me up. Maybe it's because they're the first class of students at Walnut Hill whom I've known since they were middle schoolers. Or maybe it's because my own ten-year high school reunion has just passed that I'm feeling extra sentimental. Maybe a little of both. As I think about their adventures in the coming years, I'm mindful that there's so much more I wish I could have taught them.

Dear Class of 2014,

As you make your way out in the wide world, I am so proud of you and so excited about all you will accomplish. There will be great temptation, however, to focus your life on lesser things: what you can do (success) or whom you're with (relationship). I'm most concerned with who you will be (character); this is what really counts for eternity. And the gospel says that you can't do it on your own. But there is One who lived a perfectly obedient life on your behalf so that you could inherit his own righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21)! Determine now the kind of man or woman you want to be, and then ask Jesus to help you to live in him, making decisions every day with that end in mind.

I hope you will be brave.
I am certain that courage will be called for in your generation more than ever before. And this passive, faint-hearted approach of those around you will not do. We need you to have guts, to take risks, to refuse to back down. I pray fierce prayers for you that the lessons you have learned in little Connecticut will make you steady in the midst of difficult times. You have nothing to fear in this life, friends, for the God of the universe goes before you! Be strong and courageous.

I hope you will stay tender.
Being brave doesn't mean being macho. So guys, I hope you will allow your hearts to be soft toward the weak and vulnerable, toward your sisters in Christ, and toward the love of God that pursues you forever. You were created to be both strong and merciful. Sometimes it's difficult to find the balance, I know. But a brave man without compassion will fail to be brave about the things that matter most.

And girls, this world can be unkind to women. It's easy to let your heart become stony, to build walls that would protect you from hurtful, catty words or from unkind men. In fact, society tells us that we should become just like men to avoid being hurt by them. But how Jesus longs to use your tenderness for his kingdom work if you will just let him be the one to hold your heart! You will have to be tough in some ways in order to stay tender in the most important ways. Finding the balance requires discernment and love. Don't let people abuse your heart, but please, don't harden it either.

I hope you will fight for honor.
The world is desperate for men and women who will take up the call to live with integrity. Does the idea of honor sound old-fashioned? It's not. It's desperately needed. Honor is gritting your teeth and doing the right thing. It's boldness to stand for what is pure and righteous and true. Honor is asking Jesus again and again for a heart like his own.

I hope you will keep asking good questions. 
I have learned so much from you about dealing honestly with doubt (you 2014 grads especially). Thank you for having the courage to tackle hard questions and to make our community a place of authenticity. You kept me on my toes in a way that has stretched my own faith, reminding me that the gospel is both simple and complex. As you make your way in the world, into classrooms where truth is antagonized, to parties where your morals are challenged, to boardrooms where ethics get hazy, I hope you will never be satisfied with a face-value faith. Don't get too comfortable. Wade out into the deep things of God and trust Him to lead you.

I hope you will choose church.
Not just to go to church, but to be the Church. The Church is people; it's not a building. And loving Jesus means loving that which he loves. On the cross, he proved his crazy, reckless love for the Church. So no, you can't claim Jesus as some revolutionary and then reject his Church.

The Church is people, and people are messy. They will hurt you at times and you'll wonder how this can be God's plan for humanity. Please stick it out. Find healthy leaders who are willing to admit when they're wrong. Commit to a body of believers. Devote yourself to serving God's people. Work toward unity. And remember that these are your brothers and sisters because of the blood of Jesus spilt for you.

I hope you will walk with Jesus. 
"What does that even mean?" I can hear some of you (recent grads) still asking. It's a good question, {{there you go again with those good questions!}} and I hope you'll keep on asking it as long as you live. I can't answer it perfectly, and I don't want to because then I would rob you of the journey.

But here's a start:
...It means holding onto the promises of God when you feel like your world is caving in.
...It means relentlessly pursuing a deeper understanding of God's character so that you will know Him as a Person.
...It means choosing to obey God's Word when everyone else is doing what feels good in the moment.
...It means taking huge, God-honoring risks, knowing that this world is not the final Answer.
...It means gut-wrenching sacrifice that demands all you've got and more because you know that in suffering you are truly identified with Jesus.

I hope you will take heart.
We live in a rapidly changing world, and perilous times no doubt lie ahead. How easy it would be for you to become discouraged and lose heart. But the kingdom is here! Aslan is on the move! Our good King Jesus is looking for radically joyful, obedient servants who will humbly obey Him in the midst of uncertainty. I long that when He says, "Who will go for us?" He might find each of you willing.

You make my heart burst with pride in who you are becoming. What a privilege it has been to be your leader.

Go love and serve the world in Jesus' name,