This is the second half of a commencement address given by Headmaster Jim Whiteman to the class of 2022 on May 20.
And now for a word of exhortation.
It begins with a true story with no guarantee of the exact details.
Pittsburgh was our destination for a daylong adventure one June morning. But driving our car seemed too ordinary, and I was eager to greatly enhance the travel experience. Enter Megabus, a transportation service that connects various cities at a very low cost. I was quite proud of the fact that I snagged round trip tickets to Cleveland’s rival city for just four dollars and fifty cents. Now, my wife wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of the bus or the destination, but she was willing to go along, perhaps just to keep me out of trouble, which she did.
There we waited at a designated street corner in downtown Cleveland for our 7:15 am departure. The longer we waited, the larger the gathering of passengers. And we waited. 7:15 came and went. Then 7:30. 7:40. My wife asked me if I was sure this was the right place and I said, “Of course. Why else would all these people be here?” “Well, I never thought so many people would want to go to Pittsburgh,” she quipped.
When our double-decker ride finally pulled up, the plump, middle-aged driver got out and signaled to those with luggage to begin stowing it in a special compartment. Having none, we quickly boarded to grab prime seats on the upper level. “This should be fun,” I thought. Right then I spotted an identical bus turn the corner and head the opposite direction. “I wonder where that one is going?”
The seats finally filled and our bus began to move, heading west over the Lorain-Carnegie bridge, presumably the quickest way to the freeway. Wearing one of those cool microphone headsets, the bus driver finally greeted his passengers. “Welcome to Megabus, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you enjoy the ride. We will be making only one stop on the way to Chicago and our estimated time of arrival is…”
Cindy and I looked at each other. Before I could even whisper, “Well, Chicago would be fun!” Cindy flew out of her seat like a bottle rocket, leapt down the stairs to the lower level, sprinted to the front, and practically grabbed the wheel. Inches from the startled driver’s face, she exclaimed in a panic, “We are not going to Chicago. We are going to Pittsburgh! You need to turn around!” Even though I was still on the top deck, I could hear everything she said. Everyone did. She was shouting into his microphone and it was broadcast throughout the bus. Megabus made two stops on the way to Chicago that day. The first one was on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge to let two embarrassed passengers walk back to where they had begun.
After retracing my steps to discover how I led us onto the wrong bus and then seeking forgiveness, we had a truly terrific day exploring our own city. Getting off the bus was the key to redeeming the day.
Have you ever boarded the wrong bus? We are all prone to get on a vehicle taking us in the opposite direction of our desired destination.
Seniors, as you move on in your journeys of faith, relationships, and career, I simply want to caution you about a few vehicles of mass transportation on which you may find yourself along with many others — heading in a direction you never really intended.
Let me point out three common ones that entice many travelers, both young and old.
First, there is the bus of self-sufficiency. Riding on this bus beckons me to be in charge, convincing me I do not need anyone else. I get to work my way to the front and actually become the driver to steer as I see fit. This trolley runs on the fuel of pride and leads to a destination of stubbornness, arrogance, perfectionism, heavy burdens, anxiety, and, eventually, loneliness. It dulls our prayer lives, as our dependency is not really on our Creator, Savior, and Counselor, but on ourselves. We begin praying for our kingdom to come and not His. There is no need to pray for our daily bread because “we’ve got this.”
The apostle Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” and reminds us that the Lord’s grace is sufficient. If depending on the Lord is your goal, don’t wait until you crash this bus. Pull over, get out, and listen to the voice of Jesus say, “I created you to be in community, sharing with and serving one another.” In Ecclesiastes 4, we read, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him.” You will live your best life traveling with trusted friends on a vehicle built for Christ-centered inter-dependence, not self-reliance. Jesus himself is the driver.
Next, “You DESERVE it!” is the tagline written on the bus of entitlement. It is a very BIG bus — a mega Megabus with growing numbers that say things like, “I deserve to be treated better than that. I deserve a vacation. I cannot believe I got that for my birthday. I deserve more from my college. I deserve better from my parents. What are they thinking? I deserve more from my workplace. The government owes me this. Me first. How could God do this to me? Isn’t He supposed to make sure I am happy?” When you stay on the bus of entitlement for very long, you begin looking only at the negative. Your prayer life will be centered on your own will and not your heavenly Father’s. You will begin to dishonor your parents and many in authority and see people for what they can do for you. Seeking the benefit of others becomes an unattractive option.
As we live in a culture of entitlement, this bus waits at your doorstep every single day.
But there is a lesser-known bus headed in the opposite direction, and that is the one you want to find. Its name is gratitude and it leads to a life of joy. A life of gratitude acknowledges, each and every day, that God is good and his goodness is on full display — if only we open our eyes and hearts to see it. I once read a sign in a gift shop that said, “What if you woke up this morning with only the people and things you thanked God for last night?” Think about it. The happiest and most satisfied people in the world are the ones who know they are not entitled to a thing, but have learned to be truly grateful for every gift, person, opportunity, and challenge. They become generous, use their gifts to serve others, learn contentment, and see God’s goodness even when life is difficult. The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thes 5:16-18). Whatever your circumstance, stay on the bus of gratitude.
Thirdly, keep an eye out for the bus of complacency. Once you are on it, you will simply let it take you anywhere. The seats are cushy, it’s easy to sleep, the snacks are good, you can watch movies, listen to your favorite music and enjoy a good book. Even the Good Book as long as you don’t study the convicting parts. Those on the bus of complacency really don’t care a whole lot about the truth of the world around them and don’t have the motivation to make a difference. But comfort is deceiving and complacency is a dangerous bus. Proverbs 1:32 tells us that fools are killed by their own complacency. You [the class of 2022] memorized much of the book of Ephesians and know Paul’s warning in the sixth chapter: “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
On the complacency bus, no one sincerely prays, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the Evil One.” Yet, they are heading for an ambush. Learn to pay attention. And pay attention to learn. If you recognize yourself on this bus, jump off and fasten on the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit.
If you stand on a busy street corner long enough, you will notice all sorts of vehicles offering to transport the masses to unhealthy destinations. There are other buses hard to exit with names like cynicism, comparison, pleasure-seeking, self-importance, and even self-deprecation. The bus of fear is quite popular today. There is a whole bus line called “hollow philosophies” that has gotten quite aggressive in its marketing.
But don’t worry and do not be afraid. In getting on the right bus, you only need to look for the right driver, the One who loves you, to whom you can entrust your life. You will recognize his voice as he calls to you, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will fall into place.
Metaphors only go so far, so I better apply the brakes to this one. Here are my last words of advice to you before you are crowned alumni:
You each have been taught through the scriptures to seek and recognize Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. To be critical thinkers who love well. Continue on that road with gratitude and joy. Lock arms with faithful travel partners who share your end goal. Do not assume that seeing a large group of people means that’s the right place to be. When you find yourself on the wrong bus, have the fortitude to get off sooner than later, even if everyone is staring at you. Redemption follows repentance. Use the gifts God has bestowed on you that you might bless others. Honor your parents. Work hard as if working for the Lord. Say thank you. Celebrate often. Take care of your body; guard your heart. Continue your pattern of enjoying good food, laughing often, and keeping each other in check and encouraged. When life gets confusing and you are unsure of next steps, contemplate the familiar verse of Micah 6:8. Stay in God’s Word. Sing. Create. Enjoy your hometown. Take advantage of travel opportunities, even on a bus – but check your destination and ask questions. Keep growing in wisdom and know that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
We are cheering you on, class of 2022, and still hope to ride with you from time to time.