Last Saturday night, GCS graduated 79 seniors in the Class of 2017. We call this ceremony “commencement,” because it is the beginning of their new life, equipped with everything we’ve given them. Several folks asked for my commencement charge to them, which I’ve set forth below.

I’m taking my usual summer hiatus from blogging, to refresh and recharge for next year. Thank you for investing your time in it; my prayer is always that God will use it to bear fruit in your life, as He does in mine. I pray His blessings over your summer.

It’s my privilege to be the last voice you hear as you leave Grace, to give you your commencement charge.

Regardless of what you may think your reputation as a class is around here, I have a deep affinity for you. I try not to “play favorites,” but you are one of mine. I became head of school at Grace in June 2003. You started K4 in August 2003. We’ve grown up together.  Because, one of you is my own child, I’ve watched you closer. I’ve prayed hard and diligently for you, that God would save you, that He would call you to Him. For some, I’m still praying that prayer. I’ve rejoiced as I’ve watched you grow spiritually, seeing you use your gifts on courts and fields, in classrooms, in Washington DC, in Austin, and throughout life, all to worship the Lord. Together with your moms and dads I’ve been at your countless events, cheering you on.

I’ve cried with you as we lost Olivia and Jaiden, your classmates now in Heaven, and with some of you as you lost close family members. You of all people, of all classes, shouldn’t need to be told how fleeting, how quick life is: a mist, a vapor, not to be squandered, but to be well-lived, for Jesus and for each other, because sacrificial love is the most powerful, beautiful force in the universe, the force that killed death and created life.

I’ve mourned when you’ve messed up. You will never understand until you have your own kids how deeply your mistakes and bad decisions pierced me. Even when I disciplined you, it was always with a profound desire for your heart, a hope that you would live righteous lives passionate for Jesus, because I’ve lived both ways and I’ve seen the joys of living how you were created to live, and the pain of living the other way. I believe–I am convicted that my God will be faithful to complete His good work in you. You are precious to me, and I love you. We all love you.

If you’ll indulge the metaphor: you are like arrows to us, arrows that we have all lovingly crafted, formed, shaped and molded in our classrooms and homes. We’ve done so, with one hope and prayer- that you’ll fly true, hit the target. We’ve drawn back these arrows, and after tonight we’ll release them. Whether you’ll hit the target is no longer up to us. God gives you free will because He wants loving children, not slaves. So, it’s up to you.

Like arrows, you need three things to hit your target, to be successful in this life. First, you have to even know what the target is. You’ve been told a lot of things about where to aim, where the target is located. For some, it’s “anywhere but here.” For others, it’s those targets the rest of the world aims at- lots of money, a hot smokin’ wife or husband, the American Dream. But, as you’ve heard me tell you, there’s really only one target that you were created for, that will be fully fulfilling when you actually hit it—your great “why” in life- to serve the Lord, to give your life to Him in fulfilling that great calling on your life. To fulfill that primary calling, loving and serving Him, realizing your identity and being “good enough” is in Him, as well as that secondary calling, that specific way that He has created you to do love and serve Him-your vocation, your life’s work- finding that target is a spectacular adventure God will continually unfold to you as you faithfully follow Him.

Second, an arrow has three parts, all of which must be aligned. The point is your mind- a dull point won’t stick in the target, and a dull mind makes you weak and ineffective like all those folks you see on TV just yelling at each other. The state of American education is generally deplorable. You’ve been given a precious gift by your parents, a superior education, at great sacrifice and expense to them. Don’t squander it. Continue to hone your mind, and you will be Daniels and Esthers, making a huge influence for the gospel and truth in a world that desperately needs both.

An arrow also has a shaft, which, like your body, must be balanced. Just like a crooked shaft leads to an unbalanced arrow, a crooked body leads to a tragically misdirected life. Do not fall for the Millennial lie (actually an ancient one) that I can love the Lord with all my head and heart and put whatever I want in my body, hook up with whomever, or treat my body as a separate thing from the rest of me, and define it in some way other than as defined by my Creator. That’s a lie from hell, designed to lead you down a dark and desperate path. There’s nothing good down that road. Align your mind and body with the Lord. Follow the example of those whose character you admire, and be holy.

An arrow needs fletching, feathers to help it fly true- it won’t fly straight without them. Your feathers are your heart: A heart that feels what God feels, finds joy at what He finds joy in, weeps at what makes Him weep, that passionately pursues Him, always flies true, always flies the path of peace and joy when life gets really, really hard- and it will. Stay in His Word and in prayer- that’s how you align your heart.

One last thing, maybe most important- arrows ride together in a quiver. No one goes into the woods with just one arrow. They travel in sets. The most important thing you can do as soon as you get to college or wherever you’re headed is find your set, your quiver, your people. People who love Jesus, who are also trying to seek after Him- find a good church and a strong group of Christian friends. Then, go out and connect with others who don’t know Him, and be salt and light. But, find your set first.

Define your target. Align mind, body, and heart with the Lord. Find your set, your people. And, fly true. We’re releasing you. But, you have everything you need. We’ve given you those things, together with our hopes, our prayers, and our love. We hope and pray you’ll fly true. But, we have no idea. That’s up to you.

Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.