For Michael upon graduating high school . . . and leaving us . . .
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
So it is finally time. I remember when I was eighteen, leaving for the uncharted territory of college, in an unfamiliar city, fashioning a grown up life for myself. The freedom was exhilarating; yet, I ached for home. There was one bastion of familiarity in that place: you. You were three and a half, your brother was brand new. Your parents invited us into their home for homemade meals and a dose of common sense wisdom every Sunday night. Jack and I were bonded to your family there, as we all are to the people who extend their hands and open their hearts to us when we are homesick fledglings.
My favorite memory of you as a child was when we were on vacation in Sand Point, Idaho. You couldn’t have been more than five, and had fallen and scraped your knee. You carried on like any young child would, and when at last you settled down, I looked at you and tried to help: “Oh Michael, you were so brave!” Instead of your face turning into a smile, you scowled at me and yelled, “Tayer, I wasn’t brave! I wasn’t brave at all!” You taught me something in that real moment: 1) I would never bullshit you again, and 2) maybe really being there for someone else isn’t about repainting their reality for them. Maybe instead, true empathy is just waiting it out while the other gets their cry on.
Since that moment, I have always tried to give it to you straight. And so I thought that for your graduation present, I could offer you some of the lessons I have learned since I jumped from my own parents’ nest :
Above all, never forget who you are: no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:7) of the promise of eternal life (Titus 3:7). He rejoice[s] over you with gladness . . . [renews] you with His love . . . delight[s] in you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17). He created your entire being and called it very good (Genesis 1:31). Your body is a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 3:16). You can praise Him because you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139: 14).
When I was younger, I believed that my actions, good or bad, could change my value. That is a lie. We are who we are because we are made in God’s image and loved by Him; what we do never changes that. We can’t earn our salvation, neither can we lose it . . . as long as we accept His grace. Radical grace is our inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High. No sin is unforgivable, no one action can separate us from God’s love. You are always, eternally, a son of God. There is no place—physically, emotionally, or spiritually—where His love does not follow. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31).
Second, whenever you land in a new, strange place, seek out a community that can help you remain faithful to who you truly are. Find people who will help you retain your sense of authenticity, faithfulness, kindness, and truthfulness. Find people who will love you enough to tell you when you are not being true to your deepest self. Find people who will challenge you as they love you, mirroring the unconditional and radical love Jesus modeled for us. These people should walk beside you, but also give you something to strive for. Do not fall into the trap of settling for lesser friends whom you can rehabilitate (and therefore continually boost your ego without ever being challenged). Instead, find those who amaze you with their courage and virtue, and who admire similar qualities in you.
Jesus modeled for us the importance of community. He chose his disciples carefully, and his confidantes even more so. He surrounded himself with imperfect, yet courageous people who loved Him. He trusted and respected them enough to entrust them with His Mother, His gospel, and His kingdom.
3rd, invest in prayer. I am not talking about prescriptive, religious forms of prayer. We know that would never suit you. I am also not talking about a specific religion or church group. What I am talking about is a daily investment in your relationship with your Maker, time spent quiet and open to where you are being led and what you are being called to do. The more you open your heart to God, the more He will allow Himself to be heard in your life. And as you hear His voice, you will more clearly see the road set before you. You will more clearly understand whether to turn right or left, whether to stay or to go.
David’s Psalms encompass the many forms of prayer I have experienced. He not only praised and thanked God, but railed against the Lord in moments of darkness. David wept and grieved, shook his fists, and danced before the Lord. And guess what? God can handle every bit of out of control, broken emotion we hurl at Him. He abides in all of who we are, not just the churchy religious petits fours of prayer that impress on Sunday morning. He loves it all, every last bit of you.
Which leads me to my second to last thought: I have wasted a lot of time in my life wrestling with God, and I have the scars to show for it. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with the Lord and refuses to yield. The Lord eventually blesses him and changes Jacob’s name to Israel (“God contended”) because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome. But there was a catch: Israel walked away from that night of wrestling with a serious limp! Please learn from Jacob and me that when you wrestle God, you will not walk away unscathed. He engages us because He loves us, and his love is as active and intimate as wrestling (you know all about wrestling by watching Adrian.) But if it takes a hitch in your giddy up to make you yield, He will allow it. He will allow it for your own good, for the best plan. He will allow it because He knows that all things . . . work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) . . . even the cruel and the tragic of life.
But you are not Jacob. You are Michael Joseph: One Who Is Like the Lord, God will Add. You enjoy God’s likeness, and a promise that your life will not be one of limping but adding. You inherit the missions and gifts of your namesakes: the Commander of Heaven (Michael), protector and preserver of the Hebrew People (Joseph), earthly protector and father to Jesus (Joseph), provider for Jesus even in death (Joseph of Arimathea: in Mark 15:43, John 19, Luke 23). Give in to God’s plan for your life, to the boldest and grandest plan you could never imagine. Even in the darkness, relinquish your own limited sight and trust Him who is Limitless.
Finally, learn to be content. One of the dangerous traps for the young, talented, and ambitious is to believe that once a goal is realized or finish line crossed, happiness will materialize. But I promise you that your happiness and contentment is possible in this very moment. Once you can be happy right here–both mentally and spiritually—everything else is just gravy. Paul said, I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Ask for the strength to live above the material of this world, to see past the rewards and losses to the lessons that they teach and the disciplines they are developing within you.
I love you, my kindred. Now, be bold and strong! For the Lord Our God is with you wherever you go. Set the world on fire with the light God gave only you, and never feel alone because you carry us all within your heart.