This is the commencement address I gave at Nicaragua Christian Academy International–or the manuscript, anyway. Apparently I went off notes once or twice. The speech was translated into Spanish and projected for everyone to see, so I was trying to stay faithful to what I’d written. Trying.
You’re graduating. You made it. It’s happening right now. All the times you thought, “I’ll never survive this,” you survived. For every time you said, “I can’t wait to get out of here,” you’re getting out of here. You’ll never do this again. You’ll never be a high school student again. You’ll never be a student at NCAI again. You did this. You’re done.
Take a breath. Feel that breath? That’s the breath of an about-to-be graduate. We are in the moment, right now.
Here’s the problem with big moments: they go fast. They take what feels like forever to arrive, and then they zip past like (snap) this and they’re over. Whenever I do a wedding, I make a point of telling the couple, “Pay attention during the ceremony. Be aware. Be present. Otherwise, it will fly by and you’ll hardly remember any of it. Be present.”
Sometime tonight, however late, or tomorrow morning, you’re going to be back in your room in your fancy clothes and this will be done. You’ll think back about what was cool about your ceremony and what was fun about the reception. Maybe you’ll smile a little, maybe you’ll cry. But it will be over.
All the friendships that you’ve made here, those are now going to transition. You may not see some of these people again after this week, even though you’ve shared 3 or 4 or 14 years together, day after day after day. Some of you may remain best friends. You may be in one another’s weddings…one way or another.
But everything we were doing here together is over now, with this ceremony. We have this ceremony to celebrate, as a community, that you have accomplished it, you have stayed the course, you’ve been faithful and run the race—or limped the race—but you made it to the finish line and now this part is over. We have this ceremony to transition, together, from one reality to the next. I believe that’s why we have ceremonies like weddings and funerals and baptisms and graduations. We’re stepping, corporately, from our reality that is ending into our reality that is beginning.
If that sounds extreme, believe me, it is. In a few months, some of you will wake up in Canada and some of you will wake up in Korea and some in Florida and some in New York City and some some in Los Angeles and some in Managua and one in China. You will be spread out throughout the earth, literally. And if you ever do come back here, which we welcome you to, any time, you will be treated differently. No dress code will apply to you (unless you become a teacher), you will be greeted as a visitor, as a returning alum, as a who once made this your home but has now transplanted somewhere else to follow your calling.
What is your calling? We’ve talked about that a lot. I hope it’s helped. I hope you can walk out of here with some idea of the passion God has put in you to live your life fully, and to find that place where your passion intersects with the world’s need. That’s how you’ll become the most alive and joyful version of you, When you do that in Jesus’ name, as his disciple, you bring the Kingdom of God and you are the Kingdom of God. You spread God’s Kingdom wherever you go—and God only knows where that will be.
Here’s the thing I have to tell you tonight: Live in the moment. Be present. Not just right now, when you have these robes and funny hats on that you’re only going to wear once. Yes, be aware, live in the Big Moments. But—logical connector—live in the small moments, too. Be present in all your moments.
Wiser Christians than I am named this “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” A sacrament is holy time: a baptism, sharing together the holy communion or eucharist, the bread and the cup of Jesus Christ, or gathering for a wedding, joining two lives together to become one, covenanting before God till death do you part.
Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Weddings, Funerals…Graduations. These are Holy Time, the moments when we KNOW God draws near and we are paying attention. He’s not more present, but we are more attentive.
My challenge to you is: live the moments of your life as a sacrament. Pay attention. Learn to be present. Be mindful. Let the Present Moment be a Sacrament in your lives. Not just right now—breathe in, breathe out, you’re graduating! My speech is half over and you’re that much closer—but daily.
Some of you couldn’t wait for this to be over. Your prayer request was, “I just want to get through it.” There are harder times in life, sometimes long seasons when it’s tough to enjoy the present, when you feel like “I just need to survive this.” You might have a job you hate, you might have a class you hate, you might not really enjoy the two years you serve in the Korean Military, and you think, “I just want this to be over.”
But here is the truth: Our lives are in these moments. Our relationship with God is in this moment, only the present moment. Some of you have already wrestled with “I’ll make more time for God later, when I have more time.” You won’t. You have exactly the time you have, one moment at a time, none of them ever come back again, and you choose how you live in these moments. You choose whether in your moments you are Present with God or whether you ignore God. You’re never going to “make more time,” because you can’t. You can’t manufacture time. And you can’t add one hour to your life span. That’s why the Psalmist asks God, “Teach us to number our days.” To value each one. To gain wisdom. You need wisdom, because you cannot manufacture time, you can only choose how you spend it. It’s a choice. When you spend a moment here, you choose not to spend it there.
We’ve talked about finding your calling, but really you are choosing how you will spend each moment of your life, and that will become your calling. Spend your moments awake. Keep your eyes open. Learn to be present.
On my graduation night, I was out late. We had the ceremony, and then a big party, and after that I was out driving around, because I lived in a small town and that’s what we did. Not a great environmental practice, looking back at it. I found my friend Mike, not one of my closest friends but a guy I’d played baseball with. We’d actually considered each other enemies back in elementary and middle school, but we’d gotten over that. Things that seemed important when we were younger just didn’t matter the same anymore. We sat on the hood of Mike’s car and talked about school and our friends and our futures and girls—of course—and we had a lot more questions than we had answers. And I went home, probably 4 in the morning, and wrote bad poetry about it, which I will not share at this time.
Mike was in a horrible car accident which left him not fully able to use his legs. When we were in fourth grade, I bet him a dollar that I would beat him in the fifty yard dash during our school Olympics. I lost and paid him the dollar. After his accident, he had multiple operations, trying to restore his lungs and his spine and all the parts of his body that were damaged. This last year, my friend Mike died.
Now I know you don’t know Mike, but you know me. This year I had a bad car accident. I’m here speaking instead of looking down on you from Heaven. Praise God. One moment I was driving to play intramural soccer with Joel, the next I was doing something else entirely.
Life is uncertain, and you know that, though only a few of you believe it yet. We learned that “knowing” and “believing” are different things. One of the biggest uncertainties is that you don’t know how many moments you’re given with all of the most important people in your life, and with the things that matter most to you. That’s why we pray “teach us to number our days.” Teach us to value, to live fully present, each day we’re given. It’s not just that we might die; more importantly, we might forget to live.
I’m going to say this one last time: Forgive one another. Reconcile. That’s part of living fully. Make the most of the moments God gives you. Live them to the fullest. Look up from your phones. Pay attention. Love people. Love as deeply as you can. Live your moments as a Sacrament. Be present.
Now Go. Live your passion with every ounce of your being for all these moments you’re given. Take a breath. You’re graduating now.