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Before You Head Off

Parting words for high school grads

Congratulations! You did it! Some with flying colors, some flying by the seat of your pants. You’re about to celebrate your graduation from high school.

Most of you are likely heading off for college, some for the military, jobs, or other adventures. Good for you. You’re probably excited about the prospect of leaving home. (And don’t kid yourselves—some of you have parents who are pretty excited about that prospect as well.) You’re pumped and maybe a bit nervous about striking out on your own, starting to build your own life, to pursue your own dreams.

On behalf of your Christ-following parents and congregations, let me tell you what we’re hoping and praying the most for you: that you feel homesick. That’s right. We want you to feel homesick. No, not for Mom or Dad or the sibs or home cooking or your own bed. (Though we’d like to think you’ll miss us at least a little bit!) What we want above all is for you to feel homesick for your true home, your first family, the church.

Most of you were welcomed into the family about 18 years ago when you were baptized. That’s when God said, “You’re mine! You belong to my family. I bought you and washed you with the blood of my Son. And I’ll keep washing you by the power of my Spirit.”

And that’s when your parents said, “God, we know this child is yours. We promise to bring him/her up to be a follower of Jesus.” And that’s when your first family said, “We’re on board! We intend to do our part to help form this child as a follower of Jesus. We’re going to pray, support, encourage, teach, model, do whatever God asks of us.”

For about 18 years these people (you know who they are!) have surrounded you. They changed your diapers in the nursery. They helped you find your parents when you were crying in the corner of the fellowship hall. They slipped you candy in church. They taught you the Bible stories they learned when they were kids and that they still cherish today. In GEMS or Cadets they prayed with you and played games with you and built snow-derby sleds with you and went on retreats with you. They went on service projects and mission trips with you (and probably paid your way). They went backpacking with you and shared their faith stories around campfires. They prayed for you. They asked how things were going at school. They gave you high fives when you accomplished some feat of athletic or musical or academic prowess. They put up with your resistance in catechism class and persisted in putting you in touch with your faith history even when your body language told them you couldn’t care less. When the winds of change swept through your worship services, they stretched to sing songs that you knew and they didn’t (never mind if they still can’t get the clapping thing down). And if you made your profession of faith, there’s a reason why they showed a bit more emotion and sang with a bit more fervor than they usually do on a Sunday morning.

And now you’re going to leave. You’re probably feeling more than ready to go. You’ll likely have the freedom to decide for yourself what you do on Sundays. Nobody to bang on your bedroom door and say, “We’re going in half an hour!”

You’re leaving home. Not just your natural home. You’re leaving the home that matters most—your spiritual home, your Christ-family.

So we hope and pray you’ll feel homesick. If it doesn’t hit you the first Sunday or month or semester, then I hope it hits on the second—an overwhelming sense of what you’re missing. A community of people around you who are trying to figure out and do God’s will and who will help you do the same.

I hope you’ll feel an aching need to seek out a branch of the Christ-family you left behind. I don’t much care if they’re a group of relatives with the same last name or if they have a name like United Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, Assembly, Presbyterian, or something stripped down like The Rock, The River, or The Path. So long as they go by the name of Christ.

Your home family has had 18 years to show you and teach you the best way they know to follow Jesus. If they’ve done a good job, you’ll be aching for some of that home cooking as much as for Mom’s pot roast and apple pie. If they’ve done a good job, you’ll find yourself looking for a part of the family that . . .

  • Takes God seriously. A part of the family with God at the center of the action. He’s big, awesome, holy. He’s King. He’s loving, forgiving. He’s Father, he’s . . . well, he’s lots of things, and these are people who seem intent on discovering more reasons to adore and serve this God. It shouldn’t take you long to get a read on this—perhaps a worship service or two. Who’s the center of attention? Who gets the accolades? Who inspires your awe? Who lingers in your mind when you leave?
  • Takes the Bible seriously. You want a family that respects God’s Word. It’s evident in the way they worship, from beginning to end. The preacher keeps coming back to it. You feel encouraged to respond to it. There are plenty of opportunities to join with others to study it and apply it. It’s obvious the Bible carries great weight in the lives of these people. Whenever they open it they find themselves talking about God and what he’s done and what he’s doing and how you can get in on the action.
  • Takes the world seriously. It’s clear when you’re around these people that they not only love God, but they love their neighbors. And not just their neighbors in the family, but their neighbors in the community and around the country and around the world. You’ll detect it in the prayers, songs, sermons, thank offerings, the causes and projects they support and talk about. They care about justice and mercy and politics and the marketplace. They’re not looking to cut and run. They’re not looking to hunker down safely behind thick walls. They care deeply about a broken world in need of redemption. These are big-vision people.
  • Takes each other seriously. You sense that everyone in the family matters to these people—the children, elderly, and in-between; the unmarried as well as the married; rich, poor, struggling; red and yellow, black and white; disabled and nondisabled. They pray for each other. They’re connected. They welcome you in and want to hold you accountable. Authentic community matters to these people.
  • Find these things in a church, and you’ll probably find yourself saying, “It’s good to be home again!” (You might even be surprised to find yourself back in the CRC!)

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