I vividly remember driving home from youth group with my friend Tristan one night in the spring of 2015. We were both eighteen, and about to move to Las Cruces to attend NMSU. Tristan and I had known each other since kindergarten, and had been through a lot together. We were both technically graduated and had been taking dual-credit college courses at CNM for a while, but our upcoming change of scenery was the real cliffhanger for us. I remember excited anticipation hanging in our conversation that night over the roar of Tristan’s Jeep as we both agreed that our lives would never be the same.
Today, there’s so much I would want to say to graduates about to take the same leap I did just a few years ago – a lot more than can be said concisely. So, graduates, for your reading convenience, here are a few quick(ish) pointers from someone just a few strides ahead of you:
- Use your freedom well… by remembering what “freedom” really means for you
After high school, no matter where you go or what you do, you will have more control over your life than ever before, and it will be tempting to remind yourself that you can make your own decisions (which you can and should), but therefore invest your time into whatever promises you the most pleasure and success. In other words, “follow your heart”. Guard yourself against this.
From Galatians 5,
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (v. 13)
It’s easy to gather from the second half of this verse that we should not use our freedom for selfish personal gain. However, the first half is just as critical, because it connects this to the argument Paul has made through the rest of Galatians – in short, that the definition of “freedom” for us as believers is freedom in Christ from our former way of life. We are free as children and ambassadors of God’s kingdom, and should therefore not follow our heart, because it is deceitful and sick (Jeremiah 17:9), but rather, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). In other words, make decisions on how to use your time and effort based on the text of the Bible and leading of the Holy Spirit, and allow no other force to have greater leverage in your decision making.
- Keep good company
By “good” company, I mean strong, grounded believers, as your core group of friends, who will support you and keep you sharp (see Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). If you are moving away soon, I cannot stress enough the importance of IMMEDIATELY finding a new church home and becoming involved.
During my college years, I made the mistake of never becoming well rooted in a particular church, instead substituting it with my college ministry. I had a great community of friends in that ministry, grew a ton through it, and highly recommend it to anyone shipping off to a university soon. Having solid believing friends within my ministry got me through some incredibly tough times in those years. Nonetheless, what I did was risky, because as good as my ministry was, it cannot stand in for a church. I could have greatly benefited from the counsel of older, wiser men within the context of an organized local body of believers, not to mention wonderful families who probably would’ve loved to make me feel at home away from home had I given them a chance by actually showing up. Heed the words of Hebrews 10:24-25 by never neglecting your regular time together with other believers.
- Don’t be afraid to say “no”
In this chapter of life, there will be many people, organizations, and activities that demand your attention. Not all this stuff is eternal and worthy of pursuit, nor do you have unlimited bandwidth. So, nail down your single apex priority (loving and serving God while loving and serving people), and don’t hesitate to take the saw to branches that divert momentum away from this, because you WON’T be able to maintain both (see Matthew 6:24). This might mean losing friends (or never making certain friends to begin with). This might mean not studying all the time. This might mean missing out on what the world sees as “fun”, or opportunities to further what it refers to as “your future”.
Don’t hear me wrong – you should seek to do well in everything that you do:
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” (Colossians 3:23)
But, never forget Who you’re here for and the only thing that will give you a truly lasting return on your investment:
“…knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:24)
I might add – also don’t be afraid to say “no” to yourself – to your pride, hesitancy, and fear. In short, my life would likely look very different today, in a very good way, had I not allowed these three vices to get in my way.
The handful of years following my high school graduation was a dramatic, growth-rich, transformative time of my life, but I can’t lie by saying it was easy. In fact, the worst bouts of emotional pain I have ever experienced, by a long shot, occurred between age 18 and 22. However, don’t let this scare you. Done with care, you can expect many great things coming your way.
Wherever you end up, graduates, always know that you are loved, prayed for, and always welcome back home. I’ll leave you with Paul’s confidence:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6