“What Lies Within You?” An Open Letter to the High School Graduates of 2019
Congratulations! You are graduating high school and moving on to the next chapter of your life. Did you know that one of the most popular quotes chosen as a senior class motto is "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us" - a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson?
Today, "what lies behind you" are the countless hours of studying, practicing, and preparing for this very moment - graduation! You have a history, a past, and those experiences include both the accomplishments you are most proud of and the times when you were faced with challenges or pushed to your limit. Deeply embedded in your history are family traditions, values, and beliefs. You have been shaped by the people: teachers, coaches, parents, and friends all who inspired you and who disappointed you. Your history holds your happiest and most profound memories along with your greatest heartbreaks and deepest wounds. The country, community, and neighborhood where you grew up are a part of your history. "What lies behind you" is your history and your history is the foundation on which you will build your future.
"What lies before you" is the unknown of the future. Overflowing with possibilities, excitement, and anticipation, your future is where you encounter the dreams for your life. Tomorrow is where you imagine the promise of a spouse, building a family, starting a career, and changing the world. The future is for setting goals and making plans for your life. But, "what lies before "is unknown and the unknown can be intimidating, maybe even a bit scary. The future is the place of capital "B" big questions like "what's the purpose of my life?" The paradox of the future is the both the eagerness of change and the fear of change.
In reality, "What lies behind you" and "what lies before you" are moments in time you have no direct control over. "What lies behind us" is your past and it has already happened. Anything that happened in the past is a memory. "What lies before us" is your future and it has not yet occurred. In this moment, the future is only a creation of our imagination. Memories and imagination are essential but they only lead us into the past (which no longer exists) or the future (which is yet to exist).
Which brings you to the most interesting part of Emerson's quote: "what lies within." All you really have is this moment that is right here, right now, in front of you. The present moment, now, is the only actual moment in time that you can control. You can decide, in this moment, whether to leave behind the fears that have held you back or continue to stay imprisoned by the belief that you are not enough. In the present moment, you can choose to believe that your self-worth is not measured by how much you have but rather by who you are. Now, in this moment, you can resolve to be a person who thinks and acts globally, and who understands that we are one human family intimately connected to each other by our God.
In this moment, you have two options: time wasted or time well spent. "What lies within us" is this moment where you can decide to learn from your past mistakes. Where you can stop wishing for opportunities to happen and instead start creating them for yourself. Today, choose to quit blaming others for past disappointments and decide to take responsibility for your own future. "What lies within us" is the resolution to eliminate "I can't" from your future and let go of "what ifs" from your past. "What lies within you" is the present moment and this is where you encounter the sacred in your life. Just pausing to acknowledge this very moment, the here and now, helps you to become aware of God's holy presence. Don't be one of the millions and millions of people who let time waste away without realizing what a precious gift it is from God. Time is that one thing that we can never get back. Money comes and goes. Friends come and go. But time? Once it's gone, it's gone forever.
How do you keep yourself centered in the present moment? It takes intentionality, commitment, and time for silence in your life. You cannot hear the wisdom of the present moment (God) if you do not pause to listen? By purposely taking quiet moments to go out into nature, sit in prayerful meditation, or write in a journal, you will place yourself into the present moment which will help you gain clarity and perspective for your life. "What lies within you" is the grace of God and to know and feel God's presence you must learn to be quiet and still. Scripture says to "be still and know" (cf. Psalm 46:10). God longs for you to realize "what lies within."
To be centered in the present moment, you must also understand that it is gratefulness and gratitude that will bring you lasting happiness. During your graduation, as you transition from "what lies behind you" into "what lies before you…" I encourage you to pause and reflect on the fact that your education was a gift. Earning a high school diploma is an achievement that millions of children around the world do not have the good fortune to receive. Nelson Mandela said that "education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world." How will you share your gift of education? Will you be the one who discovers an economical and just way to feed the millions globally who suffer from hunger? Will you be the one to discover a cure to stop the spread of life-threatening disease? Will you be the one who speaks for the rights of the powerless? Will you be the one who teaches future generations the ethics of equality, peace, and compassion? Today, give thanks for all the long hours of homework and study. Be grateful for your hard work and dedication. Pay tribute to your teachers who helped you to succeed. Express a heartfelt thank-you to your parents who stood beside you during your childhood and who will continue to support you as you mature into adulthood.
Finally, to center yourself in the present moment, have no fear. Did you know that the most commonly used phrase is Scripture is "do not be afraid?" Collectively between the Old and the New Testaments, the words "do not or be not afraid" appear in writing more than a thousand times. Perhaps God knows that stepping out into the unknown of the future and letting go of the security of the past, will require great courage and faith on your part. What lies behind you and before you are "tiny matters." Put your trust in the present moment knowing that God is with you now. Celebrate this awesome moment graduates of 2019. Never forget your past, look forward to your future with optimism but live in the present moment!