I’ve wanted to share this for a while– 8 months, in fact. Last May, I was the speaker at the 8th grade graduation for the school we teach at. As I finish up my “birthday week”, as I so affectionately call it (I love birthdays!), I thought I’d share it. It’s what I believe to be true about the harm in finding yourself.
I’ve removed a few of the more personal stories including names about the class, but other than that, this is it, word for word. I had more than one person come up to me afterwards, in disbelief, asking if I’d actually written this speech or if I’d copied it from somewhere on the internet. Ouch, right?
Without further ado, here it is!
Greetings graduates, faculty, parents and family members.
This is a very special class. The quality of the speeches just given demonstrate that, more than anything. These are kids who know and care about each other. They are a class of dynamic personalities, that, when brought together, immediately foster camaraderie, without even trying. I cannot tell you the joy it brought me as a teacher to enter the classroom and see the kids laughing and, oftentimes, singing with one another. I cannot begin to describe the joy I felt when when this class noticed one of their own struggling, and immediately began volunteering to lend him books, meet with outside of class, and even create special study guides for him. This is not a class of jealous individuals, whose pettiness gets in the way of their unity. Junior High is a terrible and trying time for many, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at these kids and the way they behave together.
This is definitely a class that knows how to have fun with one another. But we didn’t just play hard, we studied hard as well. I can proudly say that every single one of these kids has pushed themselves academically this year in ways they didn’t think possible. No matter how many hard questions I threw at them, these kids were willing to think deep and answer honestly. I promised that I would never lie to them, and in return, they were able to say what they were really thinking instead of giving cliche answers. Through their turned in essays, their creative writing and their willingness to open their hearts in discussion, I felt like we were able to foster a classroom community of complete honesty.
So let me be honest.
You are all about to embark on 4 years of high school. For me, Junior High was probably the most miserable I had ever been in my life. Until I got to High School. High School took my internal misery to whole new level. You would never have known it by looking at me. I participated in every sport, only received two Bs in all 4 years, and even graduated a year early. I had tons of friends, a date for every dance, and was Student Council President for two years.
But I couldn’t find that missing piece in order to make myself happy. I prayed over and over again that God would help me to be happy, help me to find whatever it is was letting me down, but it wasn’t until my first baby was born, 2 and a half years ago, that I suddenly “got” it. Something inside me clicked, and I was able to stop running from my unhappiness. Being a mother taught me a few things, and as you head into High School, my prayer is that you would keep them in mind.
I. Choose to love others over loving yourself. “Finding yourself” will only make you miserable.
Our culture is focused on ways for us to find ourselves, to identify our dreams and go for them. Our culture tells us that if only we could find ourselves and unlock our hidden potential, we will be seen for who we truly are and be happy. It’s so deeply ingrained in our culture that your life is your own masterpiece, we don’t even realize it’s a lie anymore. Our culture has stopped caring if opinions are true, valuing instead whether or not they are forcefully believed with one’s whole heart.
Let me give you some good news. You don’t have to find yourself. You have already been found by one whose love will give you more happiness and fulfillment than you could ever handle. But God can only meet us in the present, not in the past or future. When we are thinking of ourselves, we are usually thinking of the future and how we are going to have it figured out, going to train hard to become the best athlete, going to get all As and get into a great school, or going to get a great summer job at a waterpark. Sometimes, “finding ourselves” means digging deep into the past and uncovering things about the way we were raised or experiences that changed us. But “finding ourselves” despite the present verb tense, is rarely ever something that keeps us focused on the present, the here and now.
You will probably regret lots of things from high school. Just ask your parents for their old yearbooks, and you will see a lot of haircut and fashion decisions to regret. But the one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.
2. Serving and loving others is the key to happiness.
What is so magical about loving others? Why does it become the key to happiness? Is it just that when you are serving or loving others, you are too busy to focus on yourself and your own problems? It can’t just be that the busyness distracts us. We can all think of a lot of other ways to keep busy and numb. I was extremely busy in high school, but it didn’t make me happy.
Like I said earlier, God can only meet you in the present. When we serve and love others, we become keenly aware of what is going on in the present. When we are living in the present, God is able to meet us there and fill us with peace and unconditional love. Serving others is the key to unlocking our heart, opening it up and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to fill us.
This is why the famous play, Les Miserables, states, “To love another person is to see the face of God”. When we serve others, we end up meeting Christ and experiencing his love for us. For me, it happened when I was suddenly called upon to serve a crying baby 24/7. There’s no time to “find yourself” when you’re a mom, and when I stopped having time for the things I thought would make me happy, I started actually being happy! Being a mom to Gregory taught me how to love and serve others, and showed me that it was the only thing that was going to fill that empty void.
The one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.
3. Because Jesus demonstrated love, the church should also demonstrate love.
When we go to church, we should be expecting to be taught how to love and serve others, for it’s through these things that we learn about Christ and His love for us.
We may have lots of arguments about why homosexuality is wrong. Why abortion is wrong. Why one should believe in a new Earth, why one should be baptized a certain way. These arguments are easy to teach and regurgitate at others. What’s harder is to see past all that and love them. You will never convince anyone else by being right. The only hope that you can have is that through your love, they might catch a glimpse of what it means to be found.
When we read the Christmas Carol, we talked extensively about the order of the 3 dreams Scrooge experiences. He went first to Christmas past, for Scrooge needed to remember what it felt like to be loved before he was able to face the truth of his own situation. Confronting someone before loving them never works. If you can’t figure out how to love someone first, then you have no business confronting them. To be honest, many of us would rather just skip straight to the part where we throw our arguments out there so we can feel how right and how truthful we really are. But we shouldn’t even be doing that until we learn how to love.
Pope Francis said it well: The church is a love story, not an institution.
The church is a good place to be then, because The one thing you’ll never regret is loving others.
You are already on your way, as you’ve demonstrated to me throughout the year. You’ve taught me that junior high doesn’t have to fall prey to the stereotypical problems, but can instead be wonderful. I only hope that I can learn to love future 8th grade classes for their own unique personalities, instead of secretly wishing they were all you guys again.
I Want To Be A Turtle
Sad, but True