Graduating During a Pandemic

Diploma

We are living in an unprecedented season.

Typically, this is the time of year when high school seniors are playing in their final season of spring sports. It’s supposed to be a time marked by proms and other pageantry. These students have been in school for 12 long years. They’ve been looking forward to walking across that stage at graduation and celebrating all that they have accomplished. It’s a ceremony that concludes one last year spent learning alongside friends they have known all of their lives. The norms in student life during the spring season are what we expect right now. But that’s not what seniors are getting. They get the unprecedented season.

Given the nature of what is going on in our world right now, this may seem trivial. Someone might point out that missed events are nothing compared to the lives threatened by this virus. And that’s obviously true. The new coronavirus is a very real danger for a lot of people. Between those lives and prom, one is clearly far more important than the other.

The thing is we know that already. That’s why when the choice was between going to school and social distancing to save lives, we chose to stay home. But one thing being more important than another does not mean that both cannot be important. Something as culturally significant as a senior year is certainly important in its own way. And it matters a great deal to the people who are seniors.

To the class of 2020, I want to say how sorry I am that this is happening. As a student pastor (and uncle to a senior), I know quite a few of you. What I wish I could do is give you guys some kind of encouraging word right now and make it all better. I want to be able to make this all feel ok, but this is a bad situation and I can’t change it. It’s not fair that you all are missing out on these things. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. But here we are. What can we do?

I encourage you to embrace what the Bible calls “lament”.

A lament is a feeling or expression of grief. It’s not a word we are very familiar with these days. We are conditioned to pretend like life is great all of the time. When you ask someone how they are doing, you’re usually not prepared for them to respond with something like, “Life is really terrible right now.” We assume they will say that things are going well. That’s what we usually say when people check in on us. Being real and vulnerable about our hurts, fears, and anxieties is not something we are trained to do.

But the Bible is full of laments. If you go and read the book of Lamentations, it’s mostly pretty depressing. If you go to the Psalms, you’ll find that about 42 of them are songs of lament. Nearly a third of that book is a record of people crying out in sorrow. Jesus himself said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Scripture shows that expressing our pain is not only ok, but necessary.

This year did not turn out how any of us thought it would. Seniors did not get the senior year many of them have been dreaming about. Even those who didn’t necessarily have dreams are grieving over the experience that they took for granted. This year is unprecedented. And in this case, “unprecedented” means “not the way it’s supposed to be.” It’s fitting to express grief over such things. We should lament.

Lamenting does not mean distrust toward God, though.

Lamentation in the biblical sense has a very clear order to it:

  • Expressing our grief to God
  • Leaning on God for help
  • Trusting God and praising Him

I invite all of the seniors who are hurting right now to come before God and express that to Him. Be totally honest. In the Psalms, we see some pretty strong language used to convey the grief that is felt. Crying out to God is something that all of His children are invited to do. The Apostle Peter put it this way, “[Cast] all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).” Bring your pain before the one who cares about it the most.

Coming to God with our pain is wise because not only will He give you the time of day, but He loves you and can help you. That does not necessarily mean He will answer your prayer exactly how you want. It does mean that He knows what He is doing and will work “all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”

Knowing that God cares and is working things out for our ultimate good allows us to trust Him. It puts us in the position to kneel down before Him in the good and the bad and believe that He is going to get us through this.

Lamentations 3 spends 20 verses outlining how unbelievably bad things are for the writer and his people, building up to the devastating statement, “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me (Lam 3:20).” In other words, he is totally crushed within himself. Hopeless. Defeated.

“But this I call to mind,” he continues, “and therefore have hope…”

What is it that brings hope to someone who is without any semblance of hope?

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him (3:22-24).’”

I don’t know how long we will be at home. I hope that it isn’t for long. I hope that we are able to “flatten the curve” and keep people who are most vulnerable from contracting this virus. I hope that graduations aren’t interrupted. I hope a lot of things.

At the moment, we don’t know what will happen. What we do know is that God is ever present and that He is listening when we cry out. He cares about those who are sick and dying, and He cares about those who are mourning other things. Trust Him with all of it.

He cares for you.

5 thoughts on “Graduating During a Pandemic

  1. Adam, what a wonderful word for seniors. God is so good & right on time with what we need. In the last Wednesday night Women’s group our lesson was on lamenting & these verses from Lamentations & the steadfast love of God. No coincidence but God preparing us for what the next week held. Stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lament is such an overlooked spiritual discipline! I’m thankful that you all had the opportunity to study it ahead of all of this, Ms. Kathy. God’s providence at work.

      Like

  2. Awesome article !!! I know it is hard and unexpected , but God is still in control . Prayers for all the seniors ( high school and college).

    Liked by 1 person

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