Sojourn Academy Commencement Address, Class of 2015

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.

We divide time into three clear categories-past, present, and future. And I think that there are three types of people here today, each relating with one of these: The Dreamer, the Reminiscent, and the Reactor.

I’ve been each of these. In much of high school I was the Dreamer. I lived in the future. Dreaming of the mountains I would climb, the day I could drive on my own, what it would be like to have a girlfriend, and what I was going to do with my life. I would memorize entire outdoor catalogs and knew the order of the gear I would one day buy for my hobby. I dreamed about what life on my own would finally look like. What life would be like in college, and figuring where I would live afterwards. I was homeschooled, but I would spend an embarrassingly long time dreaming. My mom could never understand how I could just sit and stare at the blank wall above my desk for so long. I’m pretty sure she conducted social experiments on how long I’d sit there before she said anything!
But the future is vastly uncertain. For example, what was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? For me it was an astronaut!  I wanted to fly through the stars and walk on the moon! How was I supposed to know that something as inconsequential (yet daunting) as math would stand in the way of all of my flight plans?

No one really knows what the future holds. In James chapter 4, James calls people who plan their future with utter certainty arrogant, because they don’t factor in the variable of almighty God. The rich man in Luke 12 stored up grain and had plans for the rest of his life. But that night, Jesus says, his soul was required of him. He is called a fool because he relied on wealth to keep him alive. But just like that man, we have no idea when our souls will be required of us. We might make it to a ripe old age of 97. Or we might not make it past this year. The future is so uncertain.  
But the uncertainty makes the future exciting! The future is an untainted canvas where anything can happen, and, aside from the laws of physics, your imagination is the limit! I get dreamers. I love to dream. I dream still today. But dreamers are rarely content with today, because it’s tomorrow that holds excitement, intrigue, danger, and the ever-present hope that “tomorrow is gonna be better”. The dreamer lives in the future, not in the present or the past.

Ironically when I got to college, I abandonded dreaming and became the Reminiscint. I had just  spent four years dreaming about being done with high school, and now all I could think of was how much I missed being back home. So I lived out my first year of college with my thoughts in a different hemisphere. I would dwell both in my achievements and in my regrets.
Funny things, regrets. And how I can regret spending so much time thinking of past regrets. Don’t drown yourself in your past regrets. The only thing that can be done was finished 2000 years ago by someone much more powerful than you or I.

I stayed in touch with old friends via skype and instant messenger—anyone remember what that was? We’re talking back when facebook was only for college students. I would skype my friends, or call those who had come back to the US. I would lie in bed hours into the night just remembering and wishing with my whole being that I could go back and do it all over again.

It’s tempting to live in the past because it’s safe. It’s comfortable. And, as time moves on, we naturally begin to forget some of the difficulties in life, and so if it’s not regrets you’re dwelling in it’s a long list of good things. Safe and familiar things. Often, the past feels more like home than the present ever can be. But then a year later, when we move on, we find ourselves quite ironically thinking back to where we just had been and how much we loved it. It’s as if we can only find familiarity and comfort in the rear view mirror, in spite of the fact that we had just finish living the reality of that reflections. And during reality, we were too focused on looking at the previous reality, and so it is a cruel game we play with ourselves! I so get Reminiscents. I’ve lost myself in a world of memories against the backdrop of photographs and 90s songs. I’ve scoured the facial expressions in those photos, recalling the temperature, the emotions, and the security of it all. If you live in the past, you’ll never find a home, a place you belong. If you spend all your time keeping up with old friends you’ll never make new ones. We hate saying ‘goodbye’s, and only like saying ‘see you later’s. But if some connections aren’t severed, new ones can never be made. You’re not responsible for keeping up with every friend you’ve ever had. And you’re not letting them down by saying goodbye.

When life gets busy, and we ignore the past and the future, we face the danger of becoming the Reactor. The Reactor is constantly only reacting to the present, reacting to life as its happening. Like playing dodgeball without seeing who threw the ball; we only see the ball when it’s about to hit us—barely in time to leap out of the way. And usually this reacting is filled with mundane routine. Go to school, go to work, write a report, do chores, pay bills, toil through the day and sleep at night. The same routine every week. The sun comes up, and goes down, up, down, up, down. The rains come, and the rains leave. Birthdays and holidays come and go. Discomfort, uncertainty, stress of the to-do list, pressure from work, family, school, until we escape into slumber, only to awaken to all this the next morning. That isn’t living. It’s simply reacting. And I say this to myself before I say it about anyone else: He or she who lives in the present with no regard for past and no direction towards the future is an aimless fool.

Past, present, and future. To live in the past or furture, and only react to the present is to cheat yourself.

I think people tend towards one pendulum or the other—dreamer or reminiscent, future or the past. But my challenge to you is to live today. Don’t react, live. 

Today is the only time to effect one or the other. Today is the only time we can make memories. If you don’t get out and live, you’ll wind up reminiscing about the day would you think back to the good old days! “I remember my life in Costa Rica, when all I would think about was how good life was in the US. When I was there, I had a great time remembering what life was like back in Ecuador. Ahhh the good old days!”

Today is also the only time you can work towards your dream in the future. If all you do is plan and dream and plan and dream, you’ll wake up one day and find that all that planning and dreaming got you no closer to achieving your dream than running on a treadmill gets you closer to the finish line of the marathon. You might have a great technique and endurance, but if you never get off the treamill, you'll never get anywhere.

The present is the only time that you can make decisions that direct the future.

Hear Me:
History has much to teach us. And Proverbs tells us that only the fool refuses to remember. Our past, our memories, shape who we have become. Hold your memories dearly, but don’t live in the past.
Dreaming into the future gives direction and purpose. It is where ideas, innovations, and progress originates. It is where passion and hope are found. Dream big and daring dreams. Don’t let the realists and the pessimists stomp them out. But don’t live in the future, don’t live in your dreams—live your dream.

But today is the only time to act. The decisions we make today count. And every decision you make is made once—time only moves forwards. We only get one shot at this life.

So learn from your past. Aim for the future. And seize today.


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