The time has come to say goodbye to my 2016 grads. Yes, their graduation was months ago. But this is the week when most of them head off to new states, new adventures, new “freedom,” and new pursuits. Some have already filled their parents’ living room with Rubbermaid storage bins, bedding, perhaps a borrowed mini-fridge. Others have procrastinated (a skill they honed throughout high school) and will pack the day before they leave. Having written a blog post last year For the Grads, I decided to write a post for this year’s group as well. This was a tough class to say goodbye to! Some I’ve known since they were in elementary school…eager, bouncy personalities whose older siblings were in our church youth group at the time. Some I taught in public school for both 6th-grade and various high school art courses. Others I’ve coached, mentored, sponsored in school clubs, helped with portfolios and letters of rec, or all of the above. One of my students once told me she could never be a teacher because it would be too hard to say goodbye to the kids you care about each year. She was right. That aspect of teaching can be bittersweet. But, having poured into these kids for several years, it would be pointless to hold them back when the time comes to let them go.
Appropriately enough, the verse in the painting above comes from a passage where Jesus is sending out his “grads”. The 12 disciples have been following Jesus, listening to him teach, watching him do astounding miracles, praying with him, eating, traveling, hanging out with him. He has been their mentor and they’ve looked up to his example. Now it’s time to apply what they’ve learned. It’s time to step out in faith, leave their comfort-zone, share the gifts they’ve been given. Like a school principal’s address to the student body at a graduation ceremony, Jesus packs words of wisdom and advice into the paragraphs of Matthew 10. But unlike the principal (who tends to paint a gleaming picture of glorious futures for his grads), Jesus knows that his disciples are being sent out into a difficult unknown. People and towns may welcome them. However, many will persecute them for their faith. The reality is that in years to come most of those 12 disciples will be killed for following Christ, even to the point of being hung on a cross as their mentor himself was crucified.
Thankfully, none (or few) of my grads will face the persecution and hardships that Jesus’ disciples faced. They’re headed to reasonably safe college campuses, pursuing structured career-paths. They’ll return home every 4-6 weeks carrying a bag the size of Santa’s sack, bulging with dirty laundry. They’ll meet new people who expand their understanding of life and the world we live in. They’ll make friends – some who will be there for them for a few months and others who will be there for them for the rest of their lives. If wise, they’ll avoid pitfalls and temptations that can come with their newfound freedom. Or they’ll make mistakes and grow from those mistakes. The most important thing I hope my grads will take from the Matthew 10 passage is that the God who knows them intimately goes with them on this new journey…”Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
God’s sovereignty is one of those big churchy concepts I can’t fully do justice to here. But the line, “not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father,” hints at that concept of sovereignty. Claude Monet puts it into perspective when he says: “Your mistake is to want to reduce the world to your own scale, whereas with a greater understanding of things you would find a greater understanding of yourselves.” We get so caught up in the immediacy of our circumstances, that we forget to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God, being outside of time and outside of space, is able to orchestrate both macro and micro details in our lives and world. Micro: He has constant track of the number of hairs on our head; knows where our keys are when we lose them; knows our thoughts/fears/joys before we speak of them; can even rearrange the cells in our body should He so choose. Macro: He knows who will come into power and who will be dethroned; allows both the beauty of a sunrise and the destruction of a tidal wave; is at work in the joys of birth and the sorrows of death. He does not want us to live in fear, driven by anxiety because of the uncertainty of our circumstances (Isaiah 41:10). When we let fear dictate our actions we are forgetting the depth of our God’s love for us. He sees a bigger picture than what we can comprehend! And, knowing our need, He is proactive. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves but sent His son to rescue us from the brokenness of a fallen world. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) As Jesus sent his “grads” on their way, he spoke as a friend who would give his very life for them. His words, “you are worth more than many sparrows,” were meant to remind them of that love. The better we understand his steadfast love, the better we understand ourselves and our place in this world.
About the artwork:
This painting was a graduation gift for a young lady who loves math. Her favorite “colors” are black and white. According to her mom, the only place she’d use bright colors was in her math notebook at school. A rainbow of pens brought those notebook pages to life. When I mentored her several years ago we’d play a dice game called Farkle. I’d sit with pen and paper, struggling to add up the score while she’d do the complicated sums in her head and tell me instantly. I’d laugh and say, “Why am I keeping score when you can do it all in your head!?” The Matthew 10 design was one of my favorites to create because it brought back many sweet memories. It also posed a fun challenge for me: to design a space using numbers as the focal point, with limited color palette. The sparrows are based off photos of sparrows, but simplified down to as few lines as possible. Since most of my work is photo realistic, I enjoyed the graphic-design aspect of this illustration. To throw an art term out there, the color scheme is what we’d call an accented neutral. Meaning: black, white, and brown are the main colors with a splash of aqua to accent them.