Editor’s Note: This valedictory address was delivered at the magnificent, Christ-honoring graduation ceremonies of Trinity Christian Academy (TCA), Addison, TX, held at Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, TX, on May 17. My two youngest sons, Andy and Zack, were part of the graduating class. I was deeply moved by this address, for it touches the very heart of how we as human beings should live and think: Life is a gift from God. Not only are we grateful for TCA for their unswerving commitment to a Christ-centered, biblically-based education, but we are grateful for Brittany for expressing so well her own convictions. There are few valedictory speeches that I’ve been able to sit through; this one I listened to with rapt attention, wishing it would have gone on longer! As you will see, her maturity extends far beyond her years. Brittany Murray will be attending Vanderbilt in the fall of 2002.
Daniel B. Wallace
This year, I have the unusual privilege of speaking to a graduating class that has been educated not only by books and lectures, but also by experience. We are a generation who is already aware of just how fragile life is: on a national scale, we witnessed the terrorist attacks of September 11, and in our own Trinity community, we’ve dealt with illness, accidents, and even death. As is often the case, our Father has used the pain, the fear, and the confusion that we’ve endured this year to educate us. For years, we ran from our inevitable deaths trying to ignore the natural passage of time. As a nation, we dieted and did aerobics, we got plastic surgery and toupees, we dyed our gray hairs and put wheatgrass in our smoothies. As young people, we imagined that we had our entire lives before us to do God’s work, that our teenage years could be a sort of rest stop in our Christian walk. The trials of this year, however, have directly confronted us with our own mortality. On September 10, we were going to live forever; on September 11 we realized that life is terribly fragile. In fact, we are not guaranteed even another moment. God initiated each of our lives, and He alone can decide when to terminate them. We do not own time.
The truth seems so obvious. As Christians, we have long since accepted God as the sole occupant of infinity. As long as we are on earth, human beings are living in a finite realm, bound by time passing at a rate that we can neither stop nor slow down. Why then, do we wake up every morning feeling as if we are the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours? In the Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis notices how we view our time at work as a grievous tax on the hours we would otherwise own, and similarly, our time at church as a charitable donation, a token of our generosity towards God. Why are we so outraged when a telephone call interrupts dinner, or an unexpected visitor interrupts a lazy evening? Because someone has stolen the time we thought we had at our own disposal. This is entirely foolish. We cannot own time any more than we possess the moon.
We cannot prevent the moon from rotating around the earth or even speed it up on its course. In the same way, we can neither stop time nor make time to secure another minute for ourselves. It’s a morbid thought, but once you accept that death is inevitable and unpredictable, life becomes more precious. If a future on earth is never guaranteed, then every new moment is a gift from God, a gift that cannot be expected or demanded, but a gift of grace.
So here we stand at the dawn of adulthood, deciding just how to spend the time that God gives us. King Solomon evaluated that same decision at the eve of his adulthood. Here was a man who had sampled the best of what life has to offer; he had tasted wisdom and foolishness, things your parents would approve of and things you would never even tell your parents. He looked over all the possibilities that we, as graduates, look at right now, and this is what he came up with: “that everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). My wish for this graduating class is that we will find God’s blessings in both our labor and our leisure. Our Creator has left his mark on all creation. As long as we seek Him, His beauty and truth will be evident in everything we do, in the time we spend at work as well as the time we spend at play.
As I look back over all the work I did at Trinity, I realized how much of God’s truth I had within my reach. I’ll admit, sometimes I got so bogged down with vocabulary quizzes, and math tests, and Mr. Kimbrough’s “Little watermelon man” theory of macroeconomics that I failed to see the divine beauty that was being presented to me everyday in my schoolwork. But in retrospect, I have been exposed to so much of God’s wisdom during my years at Trinity. I learned that the spikes on a pineapple follow the same mathematical formula as the leaves on an artichoke. This formula is called the Fibonacci sequence, and it is evidence of God’s awe-inspiring order in nature. In biology, I learned that a living organism is actually made up of billions of individual cells working together as a single body. Although modern scientists often argue that multiplicity means competition, that every living thing must destroy others in order to survive, here is an example of both God’s unity and his plurality in nature. Every living organism is a reflection of the nature of God in the form of the Holy Trinity, because they are separate and distinct entities operating as one. (I want to be sure to give credit where credit is due. That epiphany was actually a joint effort between my Trinity science teachers and C. S. Lewis). In English, I learned that ancient pagan cultures who had never been exposed to the Old Testament prophecies intimated the need for Christ’s salvation hundreds of years before Christ was even born. We know this because of the Fisher King myth, a basic story repeated in the literature of several ancient cultures. Because of God’s imprint on every human heart, these people realized that to heal society, a single man would have to be sent out of his own kingdom to die a sacrificial death. As a result of one man’s sacrifice, entire societies could be restored and resurrected. It amazes me that people who had never heard the Word could infer God’s truth simply because the human soul is made in His image. In fact, even before he became a Christian, T. S. Eliot was able to describe divine presence on the road to Emmaus. In “The Wasteland,” Eliot asks,” Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together/ But when I look ahead up the white road/ There is always another one walking beside you.” God’s truth is so imposing that even a nonbeliever can sense the comfort of Christ’s presence after the resurrection. This is what Solomon meant when he told us that our labor is a gift from heaven. Our Trinity education has put the miracles of God’s creation right at our fingertips.
But just as God has been present in our labor, he has also been present in our leisure. I learned just as much from the people here at Trinity as I have from the curriculum. This is a community of believers, and I have seen so many glimpses of God’s beauty in my relationships. I saw people expose their hearts around the Senior Trip campfire with honesty and vulnerability, the same honesty and vulnerability with which Kris and Ryan exposed their speedos in a pep rally. I saw people boldly take artistic risks in the art shows, drama productions, choir performances, and band concerts, just as I saw Brice take an artistic risk when he tap danced in the Spring Show. (It takes a real man to tap, Brice. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.) I saw Chris Crowell courageously sustain injuries from a collision with the Baileys’ suburban, and I saw the Baileys’ suburban courageously sustain injuries from a collision with Chris Crowell. On a serious note, I admired the faith and perseverance with which a dear friend, Mrs. Branum, endured a personal loss, and I marveled at the spiritual strength with which Lauren Billman overcame her trials. In this Christian community, people have enjoyed victories with humility and suffered tragedies with grace. I thank you all for being encouragers and admonishers, positive examples and warnings, brothers and sisters in Christ.
We can never be sure of how much time we have in the future, but we can always be certain of God’s presence in our past. Go out and seek holy truth while you work; find beauty while you rest. In the words of Solomon, eat, drink, and find satisfaction in your toil; it is all a gift from God. Thank you and may God bless.