As a high schooler, I attracted a certain kind of friendly adult, as if by gravity. They’d flock up and want to hear about my exploits. “Are you learning nice things?” “Keeping good grades?” “Are you interested in anyone?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “No.” They’d cluck and grin their way through my meager responses then, sighing, tell me, “Enjoy it while it lasts, young man. These are the best years of your life!”
The whole thing was pretty awkward. When they flew off to their conclusion – “These are the best years of your life” –I didn’t know how to respond. “Thanks?” “Ok?” Not knowing bugged me, because I wanted to give a proper response. But I didn’t learn what that response was until much later.
Today, I want to save all you high schoolers my trouble and share the proper response. It isn’t “thanks,” or “ok.” When someone says “these are the best years of your life,” you should… scream in pure, abject terror. Consider running away. Blanch and shiver. You may practice right now.
Because what they’re saying is just awful. If these are the best years of your life, high schoolers, then it’s all downhill from here. Congratulations: welcome to the slope. Sixty years of worse than this await you! You are doomed.
And you know: right now isn’t as great as you want. Each of you fosters honest desire for a whole other degree of experience, of love, of meaning, and of life than you have right now. If this is the best, then those hopes are pointless. You’ve peaked.
When someone says “these are the best years of your life,” you should… scream in pure, abject terror.
You probably know some adults who are still trying to be like you, who actually believe that their teenage years were the top. People who try to push pause on their minds, hearts, interests, and loves, and now live like high schoolers from habit, as their bodies get older and their friends change.
They aren’t very good at it, are they? You feel embarrassed for them. You know what they can’t see: that by trying to push pause on their souls, they lost both their oldest hopes and their ability to live honestly. I’m asking seriously: Do you want to be like them?
I offer better news: through faithfulness, your life can be richer, deeper, and better from here on out. Your loves can transform into romances like you can’t imagine right now. Your pains can transform into griefs that unfurl with ever-deeper meaning. This isn’t the best there is, high schoolers. You aren’t at the top. The best is always ahead, if only you’ll keep seeking. You need never stop growing up.
I don’t mean, of course, that your circumstances will just get better. That’s very unlikely. Your biggest pains and challenges are probably straight ahead of you. But, whether pain or pleasure is coming, you could get better.
If you commit yourself to a life of faithful learning, you can become the sort of person who’s strong and beautiful, no matter what you face. You can become the beautiful old man who’s learned to say “I love you” in 10,000 more ways than I have. The 70-year-old lady who has cried so many times that her companionship itself is a balm to people in pain. You need never stop growing up.
Your life can be richer, deeper, and better from here on out. Your loves can transform into romances like you can’t imagine right now. Your pains can transform into griefs that unfurl with ever-deeper meaning.
You haven’t seen love until you see it in the faces of a couple, married for 50 years, who have never stopped learning how to love one another again, as if for the very first time. The ones who have said, “I love you” so many times, that now they can say it with the flick of an eyebrow. Now when they say it, it has years of meaning rolled up inside. Who every year have worked hard to match their love to their beloved as they change and hurt and laugh together.
You cannot purchase that love. You must build it. Do.
You haven’t seen joy until you see it in the face of an 80 year old who still works to learn things for the very first time. Whose brow settles into the lines of a thousand questions when she enters a new curiosity. Whose face opens into the lines of a thousand smiles when she finds a brand new answer. Who can still laugh like a child because she’s accepted her adulthood with wonder.
You cannot purchase that joy. You must nourish it. Do.
You haven’t seen courage until you see it in the face of an old husband or wife in their pain. Who accept the indignity of caring for their lover in their old age. Who weep with their eyes open. Who return to serve and care for their community, carrying their grief like a crown.
You cannot purchase that courage. You must earn it. Do.
Do you want to be like them? Then you cannot press pause. You must, like them, never stop growing up.
I must warn you: everything will push you to try press pause. Every major company would really rather that you stayed just the way you are. Companies will bend over backwards to make you dissatisfied with the work and world of adulthood. And the reason is (I’m sorry, it’s true) that you’re kind of dumb right now. It’s easy to trick your money out of you right now. And these companies would really like to keep doing that: tricking your money out of you. They want you to stay childish, dependent on them for a bandaid when you’re hurt and a treat when you’re hungry.
But their patronage comes at a price, not just of your money, but of your hope for growth. If you leave parents only to submit your happiness to grinning marketers, you’ll find yourself smaller, less happy, and pining for the past, just like that.
If you leave parents only to submit your happiness to grinning marketers, you’ll find yourself smaller, less happy, and pining for the past, just like that.
It’s never been easier to medicate pain and sate pleasure quickly, to avoid the work of enduring through pain or finding new loves. If you’re having a bad day, you can instantly find a way to forget it and escape. If you know what you like, you can build yourself a private consumer’s rat cage of toys and technology, where the same dry treat rolls down every time you push the big button. One click to order.
But today is a day for hope, not fear. Mentors and friends and parents and grandparents and teachers and pastors are ready to extend our hands to you and say, “Welcome.” Today, you may begin entering the grand community of bigger pains and joys and accomplishments, of more beautiful stories and opportunities, of greater dignity and responsibility than you’ve ever had before. Why not start your adulthood today?
Then, do not stop. The door that we open for you leads out to a world, to ancient music, to a far, sweet country. Walk into it, friends, and learn what the sun feels like when you stand in full rays. Learn to hear the music. Learn to sing it. Keep walking.
School will soon be done. Tests and quizzes and assignments and this structured time and space. But your learning must never be done. This world is charged with the grandeur of God, ready to flame out, and you only know how to see a bit of it. Keep looking. There are secret joys hidden just down the road. Find them. Claim them. Show them to the people behind you. Guard the beauty. Grow.
Do not stop. The door that we open for you today leads out to a world, to ancient music, to a far, sweet country.
Jesus longs for your maturity, and his Spirit strives to raise you to the fulness of his stature. The Father waits patiently to show you the joy of his rest.
And someday soon, Jesus will inaugurate a new world through fire and the fury of his love, a world in which we’ll walk and breathe and talk into everlasting life. Where learning never stops and lovers never die. Where the full company of Christian adults waits to welcome you. Where gentleness and justice and joy reign free. Where you’ll have every beauty, and you’ll know how to see it too. Today, your training for that everlasting life may truly begin.
Welcome to adulthood. Refuse to believe the hype: the best is yet to come, and come, and come into everlasting life. Now get out there and make us proud.