To my graduates: The Why

i was told, and i think it was good advice, to not be profound during my talk, but i do hope i’ve earned the right to be personal with you in the next 12 minutes. i was asked to talk about good life lessons for not screwing up, maybe how to be successful, you know, don’t do drugs, learn how to balance your checkbook, if your landlord is big, pay your rent on time, etc, but then i realized i really i couldn’t care less how successful you guys become.  And some of the best moments of my life have come because i screwed up so badly, i had no where left to turn.  so just know that i’ll love you no matter what you do or how you do it, and so, if it’s okay with you i wanted to talk a little bit about why that is – the why.

i worked at a wilderness summer camp during college, leading teenage girls into the woods and through the rivers and lakes of upper Wisconsin.  We would hike for days at a time and so the camp had come up with this phrase, about choosing not just to survive, but look up and thrive.  It was a matter of perspective that could change in an instant with the tilt of our heads.  Looking down, we saw ever crack, branch, puddle, snake, bug, thorn, etc and we did our best to survive those pitfalls, but it was when we looked up and around, not only did we begin to grasp where we were, but also the why of our excursion – our place in nature and maybe even life.  

Because of the way our minds develop, high school is a great time to sort out the “how’s” – the do’s and do not’s of life.  Hopefully you’ve come across loving guides in your parents, teachers, coaches and other mentors, to know that you are safe to try and fail and learn – we’ve all got to learn to walk when it comes to the journey of life – and if nothing else, i hope you’ve grasped the metaphorical skills of walking, falling and picking yourself back up.  

But your moving on now, into an abstract reality that requires you to not only walk, but sort out the direction in which you will go.  You have the chance to know more than just how to survive life, you have the opportunity to know the Why and with that, no matter how many time you fall, walk confidently along a road few take.  

Maybe we’re confused in thinking that science, the ultimate tool to asking how, can also answer the questions of why.  For instance: why do i think Christian Bale is beautiful, or a sunset, you know, whatever?  is the why sufficed in the because of the coursing chemical surging through my gray matter and connecting with the part of my brain which recollects prior experiences, categorizing color and symmetry into positives and negatives. . . I think there’s a really fascinating explanation for how we find certain people attractive, others not, how we process sunsets as beautiful, but the tool of scientific discovery is just that – a tool, which pulls back and pulls back to see through, but can never create or give real answer to what we’re looking for – the why of all this that we call meaningful.  C.S. Lewis, elbowed this philosophy of always explaining away, but never giving glory to what we were actually trying to see when he said, “to see through all things is the same as to see nothing.”  

A guy i know made it into a word picture that i think works really well – He talked about the why of life as if it were more than an idea, but maybe had an even greater reality than the truest experiences.  He talked about the why being personal, not an it, but more like having the characteristics of a he-she – like unconditionally loving and determined to bring justice.  He compared the why to a vine, calling Himself the vine and inviting his friends to be the branches who reach out, but always draw their meaning for life from him. It was an invitation to abide, or rest.   

He talked about the why like a father who loved his son so much.  but the son, all he wanted was the how and he didn’t want any of the love from the why.  He told his dad his life would be better if the dad were dead and he could just have all the benefits without that relationship keeping him home.  So the dad, broken hearted, knew he could never force his son whom he loved to accept Him, to love the why – so he gave him everything he could and let him go.  

But like what we talked about before, only living on the how and never really asking why is like trying to hike with your head down, never looking up and pretty soon the son had lost all of his resources.  he found out that although he had been given so much, just knowing how to walk, was not enough – could never be enough to really being on a journey that takes you somewhere worth while.  

So it was at the memory of the why – we’re calling the why the father, that the son heads home.  And he walks slowly, cause he’s like, oh shit, this is not going to go well, but maybe my dad will take me on as a servant, i mean even the lowliest people in his household have it better off than where i’m at.   so he walks, and he comes over the crest of the last hill and home just comes into sight.  

But here’s the cool thing about the why, instead of just standing there with his hands on his hips, trying to think of the most sarcastic way to say “i told you so.” or you know just pouting, the why has been standing at the gate ever since the boy left and he’s been straining his gaze, always wondering if today the son is going remember to ask why and break the horizon and yes, today’s the day and the dad, he’s like in his bathrobe and he’s got his coffee, but he doesn’t care.  He drops his world’s best dad mug and yah, he’s only got his tighty whities on underneath that robe – there’s not a second’s hesitation and his movements have no pride – he’s sprinting and he takes on the entire weight of the son’s shame at coming home empty handed just because he’s so glad to have his son back.   

In your moments of stopping to look up and around you, you know there is a reason for attraction, for beauty, for hunger and pain and hope, all things which make our life more than putting one foot in front of another, but rather these things help us to come into the holy questioning of why.  Beauty makes no sense without God.  Quite frankly, neither does love or justice or anything else we ache for in our souls.  But with him, it’s not that we are going to get to the bottom of why, and dissect the purpose of you me and tea, but we’re going to grow up in the why.  He’ll introduce Himself as more than an idea, as more than a person, as the deepest relationship you will ever drink from.  Together, with the why at your side, you’ll set a course that will take you somewhere and let you see things beyond your own survival.  

The why, who belongs with you is so personal and demands your time, quieting yourself, but not just to be silent, but rather to hear and fill your life with His character.  

i can’t tell you that because i know God, my life is filled and i have no needs, no desires and i’m complete and you can be too – no, that would be a boring and terrible lie.  But what i can say is that He’s always there, He likes me, He loves me, He doesn’t let me be too much of a jerk before pulling me back into Himself and reminding me to cut that crap out, i’m made to love and be loved – and where that takes me has yet to disappoint.   

So i’ll pray for you now, if that’s okay.  but i’ll pray for you after you go.  in fact you have been in and will continue to be in this room full of people’s prayers for a long time, but let’s join that chat and talk to a God who is in fact the only satisfactory why we were made to know.    

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . .