On May 22, we held the commencement exercises for the Grace Community School Class of 2021. With 91 graduates, it is our second-largest graduating class in our school’s history. The class was also awarded $9,535,809 in academic scholarships from colleges and universities, our highest total ever. The following is my charge to our graduates.

I will break from writing over the summer, but my prayer for you and your family is for a truly restful summer; that you will take care not to over-schedule, but to allow the Lord to heal and restore you, and grant you rest. God bless you all.

When we began this year, I never thought we’d get to this point. Your senior year has truly been one for the record books. I’ve been doing this for 18 years now, and, to be honest, the classes all start blending together after a while. It’s difficult to remember who graduated in what class, or to remember the distinctives of a certain class. Not so with this class. I will always remember the Class of 2021 for leading our student body through what may have been, what may forever be, the most unusual year in our school’s history.

After all, you were seniors when the divisive triad of COVID, racial conflict, and political polarization settled on our nation (in Texas, SNOVID provided a fourth significant challenge). I was at Baylor University two weeks ago, attending my daughter’s graduation, and the president there, who I do really appreciate, addressed the seniors by congratulating them on surviving these things, surviving their senior year. Surviving these things was the theme of her speech. As I listened, I thought, “How sad. Is survival really all there is?”

Fortunately, for you, survival is never the goal. You were placed on this earth by the Almighty Creator God, the one who spoke the entire Universe into being simply by His spoken Word, the One who created all people with His breath, and the One who made you as His own children. As His Sons and Daughters, those of you who know Him, saved by the blood of Lamb, heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, co-rulers of the New Jerusalem, for you, surviving COVID, or anything else for that matter, is not your end goal.  You were created to flourish, to thrive, to take all this life has to give and give deeply of yourself, driving back the gates of hell and bringing light and life into a world that thinks it hates Jesus, but is dying without Him. Flourishing and thriving, experiencing joy and love and grace and hope, and living out truth, is your destiny, and bringing all those things to others is your mission.

In order to do all that, in these last words I have to give you, I charge you to do three things, three things your parents, and your churches, and we have equipped you well to do, three things you already have all you need to accomplish: to listen, to think, and to love.

First, to listen. James, the brother of Jesus tells us, “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” By now I pray you’ve learned that, like you, everyone has a story. Everyone has a reason they do what they do, and for most of them, it’s driven by pain and hurt, and, in this day, fear. As a Son or Daughter of God, you can be healers of that pain and hurt, and drive out that fear- that is your mission- but you cannot unless you understand their story. And, to understand, you have to listen. Listen until you understand. You don’t need to talk. You don’t need to say the perfect thing. So many times in life, no one really cares what you have to say, anyway. But, they will always care if you listen.  And, in listening, you will learn. And, in learning you can bring healing, and comfort, and hope, and truth. There’s too much talking in the world. We need more listeners.

Second, to think. We live in a culture where people have not been well trained to think. For most students in your generation across the country, being out of school for a year will not help. In his recent book “Think Again,” writer Adam Grant says the result is widespread cognitive laziness. We prefer the ease of hanging on to old views over the difficulty of grappling with new ones. We listen to views that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We surround ourselves with people who think just like us, and we can’t imagine anyone could possibly think any differently and be intelligent, or be a Christian.  These ways of thinking, or, rather, failing to think, are really one of the biggest reasons our world is so polarized today, resorting to name-calling and label-hanging, followed by canceling, rather than doing the hard work of understanding and seeking to be understood, and then thinking for oneself.

We have taught you to think. You will find you actually are more cogent, clearer thinkers than many of your peers. You have been given the gift of learning, how to organize your thoughts, and to write clearly, and in about six months you are going to realize how much of an advantage you have been given, when you see that so very many of your friends in college, people who were admitted into the same schools as you, cannot do these things. Instead of feeling prideful or arrogant, or using it solely to gain a financial or other advantage, use this great gift you have been given to not be so easily swayed, not let yourself fall into the trap of being polarized and turned against other people, yelling and fighting, which is not the way of Jesus, and instead, seek to listen and to understand, and to earn the right to be heard, and to truly have something to say, something rooted in God’s Word, as you have also been trained to think. Instead, use this gift to love well.

That is my third and final task to accomplish: love well. You have been taught and shown that love is neither a feeling, nor an emotion. It is an action, the decision to be completely and wholly for another. Love for every other person begins, first and foremost, with the decision to be completely and wholly for Jesus. How else are you going to experience love and then give love as love was meant to be given? And, how is love meant to be given? Ann Voskamp tells us, “Jesus risked Himself on me. How can I not risk my life on you? You may not love me back. You may humble me, humiliate me, reject me, shatter my heart, and drive the shards into my soul—but this is not the part that matters. What matters most is not if our love makes other people change, but that in loving, we change…love is always worth the risk because the reward of loving is in the joy of loving itself. Loving itself is the greatest outcome because loving makes one more beautiful, more like the brokenhearted Beauty Himself.” You can only truly love, truly experience the joy of love, when you sacrifice. Sacrifice the need to gratify yourself and then give yourself wholly for someone else, as your parents, and your teachers, those who love you have done for you. You all have been loved this way, and hopefully you have learned to love well by the examples that have been set for you.

In loving wholly and completely, in going from here, finding your people, and loving them well, you become like the One whose love for you killed the death in you, and the One who through you can kill death in others, too. Causing them to flourish. Because you were not made to survive, but to flourish and to thrive, to listen, and to think, and to love. And, that is my charge to you.