Thank you, Mr. Etter, for that generous introduction and for this enormous privilege of addressing the Class of 2019. Reflecting on these last few days together, my heart almost bursts with the joy of seeing you, my students, talking to your families, and meeting face-to-face with my colleagues and friends. Over 500 like-minded people, gathering together with a common love for our Lord and for learning, joining in a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful, forming a community around classical education and Godly fellowship – and now, celebrating you seniors who mean so much to all of us. All these unspeakably rich blessings upon blessings for me spiritually, personally, professionally, all because I have this job teaching Latin. What a gift this work is to me!
When I was in 12th grade, I never dreamed in a thousand years I would be teaching Latin! That Latin has turned out to be my most marketable skill still baffles me – I’m not sure what that says about my other skills…. From 1st grade to 12th, I knew with total confidence that I would be a concert violinist. If you count the number of students in this room who studied violin with me compared to the number of students who studied Latin with me, I think you can see how well that idea panned out. I had switched to classics by second semester of my freshman year, in a move that surprised everyone, maybe especially me, and I’m thankful that I made that decision every single day. And that’s the thing: Plans – even the plans we have developed for years – have a way of getting interrupted. Plans evolve, plans change, and as much as we like to plan, very rarely do any of the things work out the same way we think they should.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t make our plans. The fact that you are here, at the end of 12th Grade, minutes from graduation, is the fruit of years of planning. Your parents have charted your academic course, and your teachers have carefully plotted every week, Day 1, Day 2. We follow a syllabus, we outline our papers, we do what’s due when it’s due (most of the time!), all because we are following plans.
But planning out what to do with your life, what your vocation will be, is seriously hard work. As a Latin teacher myself, I am vocationally bound to remind you that the term vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare” which means “to call.” So, “Vocation” is God’s calling for us to love and serve our neighbors in our everyday lives through our work. Teaching Latin is one of my vocations, but I have several, and you do, too. I’m a wife, a mother, a sister and daughter, a friend, a citizen, and part of the faculty at Wilson Hill. All these things together reveal God’s calling for my life and the good work that God has planned for me.
Now, these vocations of mine, they don’t necessarily define me, but they certainly define the way I use my time, and this is where we see the great blessing of vocational thinking play out in practical ways. When even the most mundane tasks – another class, another assignment, another chore – take on profound significance when I see that God Himself has called me to do all these things, to serve other people with my work. Indeed, God Himself is providing daily bread to other people through me. What a privilege that is! And on the good days, I truly delight in it. On good days, my vocations bring me great joy. On good days, I am thankful to become the hands and feet of Christ for my neighbors!
How I wish all days were good days! If all days were good days, we could end this speech now, at this Pinterest-perfect moment when everyone is happy and fulfilled in their vocations, knowing exactly what they’re going to do after graduation. But, anyone who has read the Book of Ecclesiasties knows that even our good works are meaningless under the sun, and the brutal reality is that we have bad days, too, sometimes lots of them, when we face real vocational battles.
We could talk about this sort of thing all day as there are plenty of vocational battles to choose from, but one that I think we can all relate to and one that, unfortunately, seems to affect the recent high school graduate especially is the problem of interruptions. I don’t mean the kind of interruptions where someone speaks while you are speaking or something happens that makes you lose your train of thought. I mean the kind of interruptions which mess up our plans, which keep our to-do lists undone; interruptions which can fill us with doubts about our futures and keep our dreams from coming true, and interruptions that make us wonder sometimes if God really has called us to the vocations we think we have.
I am an expert in interruptions. Back in college, roommate drama would always erupt just when I needed to study for exams. I’d always get more studying done when no one else was around (I know you can relate to that – or else you soon will when you experience dorm life!). And nowadays as a mother? My house is basically an interruption factory. With six children at home, you can imagine how many times I was interrupted just while thinking about this speech. And you’ve seen the little Hensleys walking past my webcam during class. Sometimes even interruptions get interrupted at my house. Motherhood brings with it interruptions galore, but you don’t have to be a mother to know what I’m talking about. How often has your day been interrupted by a friend, desperate to talk? Or a family member who needs your help? More seriously, how often have your life plans been interrupted in profound ways, with health or lack of health, work or lack of work, love or lack of love – these interruptions keep the chapters of our lives from turning out the way we plan them.
Honestly, in all my years of teaching, I have never known an academic year as marked by tragedy as this one. In our Wilson Hill Community, for we are a real community, we have seen sickness, unemployment, fire, and even death. No one would ever have imagined starting this school year without our beloved Mr. Baker who stood at this podium a year ago and who is in the front of our hearts today. These interruptions are brutal and impossible to bear.
We might wonder, if vocation is about God using me to do His work, does it still count as a vocation if I don’t know for sure what work I’m even supposed to do? Or if I’m not getting any work done? Or if my plans aren’t working out because life is stunned by tragedy? Like the librarian whose shelves would be in perfect order if only people would stop checking out books, or Like the teacher who would finish every lesson plan if only students would stop asking so many questions, or Like the homemaker who would have a perfectly clean house if only no people were living in it, the temptation that we face is to blame our vocational woes on the very neighbors we are called to serve. And what a real distraction that temptation is. We’ve got to think about these so-called interruptions in a different way, and with God’s help, I think we can.
For you see, since vocation is about loving and serving our neighbors, our neighbors, not ourselves and our own dreams, but our neighbors determine our vocational paths. And what we see as interruptions are not really interruptions at all, but rather proof that our neighbors truly need us and that God calls us to serve Him by serving them. When seen in this light, interruptions don’t keep us from our to-do lists, they ARE our to-do lists. And this is where I think we can reclaim our vocational joy, not because we live in a world of idolatrous self-fulfillment where we’ve found our vision, our plans always turn out, and our career paths are clear, but because we live in a world of neighbors who need us and neighbors whom we ourselves need.
If you are struggling to find your vocation, struggling to see how God can use your life, pay attention to the ones who interrupt you, who interrupt your plans and distract you from your work. They are the neighbors God has sent you to serve. And when you grow weary of it, as all of us will, remember that God never sees you as an interruption. Our labors under the sun, which Ecclesiastes calls meaningless, are but a breath, but when God is working through our labors, suddenly even wearisome, meaningless tasks take on profound – even eternal – significance. For when God is at work, everything He does endures forever. What we offer up as water, He turns into wine. And if you don’t even have water? He can make it come out of a rock. When you call out, He hears; when you fail, He perfects, and when you need help, He sends you neighbors to love and serve you, neighbors like your family and friends gathered together at LINK, neighbors like the new friends you will make in college, neighbors – even the ones who keep us from getting our work done (in fact, sometimes the neighbors who keep us from getting our work done are the best kinds of neighbors to have!).
So, make your plans for life after graduation, but don’t panic if your plans get interrupted or don’t turn out the way you expect. Don’t be disheartened if your plans change radically, for how can it be any other way? Keep loving God; Keep loving your neighbors, and Keep loving your work, whatever it might be. For whether you are a teacher saying goodbye to dearly loved students, or families getting used to a new chapter of life, or members of Wilson Hill’s graduating Class of 2019, your eyes haven’t seen, your ears haven’t heard, and your hearts have not even imagined the good plans that God has prepared for you!