In just a couple of weeks I will be traveling to my hometown of Chillicothe, Ohio to celebrate my 50th High School Reunion. Wow! That is a lot of mileage on the life odometer and you can’t roll it back. A few years ago my great-niece asked my advice about navigating the emotional ups and downs of the high school years. Here is what I told her.
1. I wish I had known that my high school years did not define me for life
My teen years were a mixed bag of memorable highs and incredible lows. Now I realize that I am grateful for what I once considered some of the difficult moments of my life. In many of those spiritual valleys you could not have begun to convince me that God was molding me or that those experiences could ever be of value.
Had I been the coolest guy or the best athlete I most likely would not have developed a sensitive spirit to others. With the benefit of hindsight I can promise you that I am grateful for every refining difficulty and problem. High school did not define who I would become and it does not define you either.
2. I wish I had known that every person is created in God’s image…and He loves them just as much as He loves me
Sparky Anderson, a former Cincinnati Reds manager, once said that “you can never go wrong being classy.” And you can never go wrong being kind to everyone. Sometimes you will be tempted to ridicule or tease those who are less attractive, intelligent, gifted, or cool. Don’t do it. High school is the start of a very long journey. Some people seem to be leading the life race coming out of high school turn but there is a long way to go. The real winners know that life is a marathon and that God has a plan for that long race. Be kind to everyone. Jesus loves them. And so should you.
3. I wish I had known in high school that I needed to take responsibility for my own actions
Learn now to say these three sentences.
I was wrong. I am sorry. Forgive me.
And keep your “but” out of those statements. Don’t say “I was wrong ‘but’ I didn’t think it would hurt you” or “I am sorry ‘but’ I was having a bad day.” Those are not real apologies. Take responsibility. Live with integrity. That will make you unique in this culture!
4. I wish I had really believed that God had a plan for my life
Every person has a God-designed destiny whether they believe it or not. Henri Nouwen wrote about living with that frame of mind.
We seldom realize fully that we are sent to fulfill God-given tasks. . . . We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide how to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.
Living out of who you are is liberating. The apostle Paul had some thoughts about such a life when he wrote to the church at Ephesus.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)
Think about that! You were rescued from the death of sin by grace. It was a gift that could not be earned. And you are a new creation, indeed a masterpiece for whom good things were planned from the beginning of time. How can followers of Jesus possibly have self-image issues? Only when we believe the lies.
5. I wish I had known that the most important decision I will ever make is who or what I worship
Everyone one worships something or someone. It can be money or power or fame or popularity or another person. We have a deep yearning to find our purpose and significance. If you don’t find that identity and significance in Christ you will tend to fill it with wrong things. Often those things are not inherently bad. But they can become bad things when they become the focus instead of Jesus. We used to sing a camp song with these lyrics..
Seek ye first the kingdom of God And His righteousness And all these things shall be added unto you
There is nothing wrong with these “things” when you seek the kingdom of God first.
6) I wish I had known that God’s grace is the key to freedom
In high school I learned quite clearly that my performance was the key to my acceptance. I transferred that belief to my relationship with God. That was a spiritual stumbling block until I learned the remarkable truth of God’s grace. I finally learned that it was Jesus’ performance for me that makes me accepted by God and not my good behavior for Him. Grace allows me to quit trying to be righteous and actually begin to be righteous as I focus on the One who gave me the gift of grace. Grace allows me to deal with sin instead of trying to manage and rationalize it. Grace is real and powerful. It is not weak or cheap. If you think grace is cheap, go to the foot of the Cross, look up, and see what grace price was paid for every person on earth. Grace should never be my cover for sin. Instead grace is my only hope to deal with it. Grace makes me tremble when I think of an almighty and powerful God who loved someone unlovable like me. Why would He give such a gift to an unworthy child? And how could I be comfortable taking advantage of that amazing grace? I cannot. I pray that I will not. Grace is compelling. I want it to be compelling in my life as well. Real grace works. Love grace with abandon.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8, NLT)
I know that most of us have to learn the lessons of life the hard way. I am still learning after all of these years how to follow Jesus more consistently. He is so incredibly patient and loving as I stumble along. Add that to the list of things I wish I had known and believed.