Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Event Mentality

My son is a senior in high school, and to honor that, the school has held an evening banquet at a reception hall, a school-day afternoon "fry" at the local state park, and in addition will hold a Baccalaureate service, scholarship awards ceremony at the school the morning of graduation, and then finally, the graduation ceremony.

And that's just the beginning; then comes a summer of endless graduation festivities. There will be white tents raised in back yards, relatives who haven't seen the teen in years congregating in living rooms, pig roasts and beer kegs and caterers, etc. etc. I've heard of one couple that is having disagreements over how large their child's graduation party should be. Some schools take their seniors on cruises! It makes me marvel: if the graduation party is a huge deal, just wait until the wedding shower, wedding, honeymoon and baby shower! When does it ever stop?

Here's where I pipe in sounding like a member of the older generation: When I graduated, we had a graduation ceremony at which we were handed our diploma and then moved on. I know a woman who was raised by missionary parents, and when she graduated high school in Aruba, there wasn't even a ceremony. They were simply handed a piece of paper and told they were done. I like that. I like it a lot.

I don't mean to rain on anyone's graduation party. Small gatherings with close family and friends are fine. Maybe all the fuss my son's school makes is just a symptom of where I live: a small community with the average size of the graduating class between 60 and 90 kids. Most of them have journeyed from Kindergarten on up together. It's a tight-knit group. In contrast, my graduating class consisted of 600 students -- students who merged in high school from the two large local middle schools. Many of us just wanted to graduate and get out of Dodge. And since the drinking age was 18 at the time, most of us didn't need to have parties hosted by our parents; the bars did that for us. But I digress. It seems to me that, due to smaller families, better incomes and the self-esteem movement of the last 20 years, the red carpet is rolled out more and more for something that happens every day and isn't quite as unique as we might think.

As my husband says, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to graduate from high school. He also likes to point out that humans have been giving birth since, well, the beginning of creation. Neither is a particularly unique accomplishment, yet we treat it as if it were an anomaly in the way we grandstand over it. I'm not saying the birth of a baby or graduation is not to be celebrated or honored! I am saying that I think the celebration itself has upstaged and over-exaggerated the accomplishment.

I read an obituary today of an 81 year old man. It said he married his wife at the home of her parents. That reminded me of how marriages were often done back in the day: A quick intimate little ceremony with the local pastor or justice of the peace, with only parents and sisters and brothers present, and, after a piece of cake, off they went on their two-day honeymoon, if that. There weren't entire magazines geared to the one-day Bridal event, and people didn't have to hold off buying a house due to their extravagant honeymoon! (This is even funnier when you consider that most couples have lived together before they marry. It's not like their life together is just now being forged.) No, people got married without a lot of brouhaha and that was that. Not anymore. Celebrating anything has grown to hysterical levels (remember the trampling death of the Wal-Mart security guard last November by Black Friday "Christmas" shoppers?).

That's why I did a boycott so-to-speak of Mother's Day this year. I felt silly dedicating an entire day to me, as if what I do every day entitles me to this sort of honor. I'm honored every day simply by the privilege of living with the husband and sons that I have, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Getting all worked up over one day to somehow focus attention on the fact that I'm a mom seems fake and forced. I told my sons to never ever just go out and buy me something because the world tells them it’s Mother's Day. Whether it's Christmas, July 4th, Halloween, Father's Day or New Year's (there's a new one every year), the world is asking "What are you going to do?" and "How will you top last year?" There's an implied expectation -- a mandate really -- that this day shall be duly and extravagantly noted!

I've certainly been guilty of it myself, especially before I became a Christian. My hope then was put in the next experience, not Jesus. I needed the material stuff to celebrate with because otherwise there would be no meaning to the holiday or event. My life without Jesus was such that if I didn't have another event to look forward to, I had nothing to look forward to. Events kept life interesting and distracted me from that empty feeling inside. In addition, without God, holidays and graduations were also meaningless unless they had lots of food, parties, gifts, and drinks. Without God, we pump up milestones -- as common and universal as they may be -- with pomp and circumstance and keep raising the bar to get our fix.

God, for me, has made much of that larger-than-life celebrating seem silly and shallow. I think it's because over-the-top events block people's view of God's role in the event. The larger the pig roast, the bigger the tent, the more professional the band, then the more we see ourselves and not God. We slap ourselves and our kids on the back and take all the credit for whatever it is we're celebrating. God is not in it and therefore receives no credit.

I know now that God gave me my kids. God is what got our family through to this point and He's the one I honor every wedding anniversary and birthday because only because of Him were my husband and I and our marriage and family re-born. I now know that God is the giver of my sons' talents and abilities, not me, and God is the one who will bring about marriage for them if He sees fit. God is the one who will also grace them with children: children that will be entrusted to my sons if God has that in the plan. Yes, we humans have something to do with it. We obey and use the talents and pray. But we do that through our faith in Jesus Christ--not of ourselves--and we do it to glorify God, not ourselves. Our faith in God allows us to mark the days and years in simple thanksgiving, joy and worship without, really, all the fuss.

I guess I'm losing the ability to make a big deal out of a fairly normal life event. Instead, I'm increasingly seeing the Grace of God -- not just in the milestone accomplishment -- but in each day leading up to it and every other day that follows. Because without God, when the tent is taken down and the after-party debris is bagged and put out to the curb, people will once again feel empty. So they'll look at the calendar and begin to plan. And look forward to. And the cycle will continue to repeat. Life without God truly is life lived in an event mentality.

This Sunday, my son and the Class of 2009 and their families will attend a Baccalaureate church service in their honor. And I am exceedingly thankful for the school for supporting this. At this gathering, God will be the focus. God will be honored and praised for each and every student there. If it were up to me, this would be the sole marking of graduation. It's reverent, it's joyful and it celebrates the God without whom there would be no graduates, no graduation, and no accomplishments whatsoever.

"Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together." Psalm 34:3

"But, 'let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'" 2 Corinthians 10:17

"...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Philippians 2:13

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