Yesterday, I sat next to one of my seniors in church. I don’t often sit with the youth during service because they just had to deal with me yammering at them the hour before in their Sunday school class, but sometimes I make exceptions. Like, when one of my seniors who’s months away from being “one of my former youth” asks me if I’ll sit with her – that’s worth making an exception.
I have a soft spot for this particular group of senior girls. They were freshmen when I started teaching, though some of them have come in later, as sophomores or juniors. They’re all “my girls,” though. And they’re going off to different colleges, and they won’t be in my class come August. And that gets this youth leader thinking about what we’ve learned together and about what there’s yet to teach.
You six wonderfully unique, lovely ladies have made my life better. You have made me better. You’ve challenged me in all the best ways through the questions you’ve posed in class, forcing me to delve deeper into the Word as your teacher and as someone who’s also trying to figure out how to best love the world like Jesus. You’ve made me think about how I conduct myself in my friendships as you’ve asked advice about how to handle your own. You’ve reminded me that God is honored by a child-like faith as we wade through the waters of adulthood. For what you’ve taught me and for who you’ve helped me become, I will always be grateful.
That’s the sweet part of this whole bittersweet graduation season. My heart is full of love and of pride for the women you already are at seventeen years old, and I’m excited about the women you will become as college and life mature you. The “bitter” part is that I won’t get to sit alongside you through it on a weekly basis anymore. I’m going to miss that.
Even so, it’s right for you to move on, and this is your time to learn the lessons of goodbyes: while they’re always sad, they’re not always bad. It’s good for you to move on from our class and the youth group and summer camps. It’s time for a new season, new challenges, and new people. It’s time to grow up.
As you go, know that you’re supported by a home church that loves you. Know that you’re on the path of becoming the women God’s created you to be. Know that God’s with you in all of it, in the darkest and ugliest places you may find yourself. In the places where you feel like He’s abandoned you or left you in the stress of life by yourself, He hasn’t and you’re not alone. In moments when you feel farthest from Him, that’s when your roommate or your friend from church or someone from home will invite you into a real conversation, one that’s not about the division of cells that you’re talking about in your Biology 101 class, but is about who you are and why they’re glad that they know you. That’s when you’ll get a package of cookies from home, or a good grade on an exam that you studied your butt off for, or a text message from a friend that simply says, “I love you.” That is God moving in the everyday life of a college student. Keep your eyes open to seeing God in the everyday. He’s there, and He hasn’t left you alone.
Lean into your friendships, and let people carry you through the stress that comes with learning to be an adult. You’re all in the same place, so you’re going to need each other to get through the break-ups and the fights with roommates and the bad grades. Call home and complain to your mom about your roommate or your philosophy professor or microeconomics, and tell her you love her while you’re at it. If you live with roommates, clean up after yourself. Wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, run the vacuum, and don’t leave your dirty socks in the living room because it’ll save you a lot of unnecessary headaches. Every once in a while, blow off your school books and cramming for an exam and go hang out with your friends. Take your studies seriously, though. Don’t pull all-nighters if you can avoid it, because your work will reflect that your mind was running on coffee and not sleep. Eat in the dining hall so you’re not spending extra money on food, but probably it’s okay to go grab a burger on the night the cafeteria serves scrod or catfish nuggets. Find a Bible study or plug into a church or do something to keep you engaged in relationships with other Christians. And don’t be in a rush to grow up. You have the rest of your life to stress about health insurance and paying rent and all the other stuff that goes with being a grown-up. Find a way to enjoy the biggest problem on your plate being a 25 page paper about C.S. Lewis’ ideas of love or Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis. Don’t be afraid to change your major, even if you’re already a junior. Realize that your path is unique and try really hard not to compare yourself to other people. Find one professor and be intentional about developing a mentoring relationship because that’s the person that will write a glowing recommendation letter to help you find a job later. Plus, they have loads more to teach that they can’t cover in a 50 minute lecture and you’ll want to know that stuff. Trust me on this. Most of all, though, make the most of this next season of your life. God can do incredible things through you and in you if you’ll let Him.
So, that’s it. Go forward. Become better. Let God and life change you and grow you up.
But, if it’s all the same to you, let’s not rush May, June, and July. Let’s enjoy the summer together. And if I sit with you in church every once in awhile without you asking, know that it’s because I’m not ready to tell my girls good-bye just yet.