The 2019 Covenant Christian Academy Graduation Commencement Speech:
Headmaster Castello, CCA Board of Trustees, my amazing colleagues, alumni, friends, proud parents and members of the class of 2019, I’m genuinely honored to be with you this evening. Students, tonight marks both the closing of one chapter and the opening of another in the divinely written story of your life and I deem it a privilege to share this moment with you. Someone once said a person’s eyes may be the window to their soul, but it’s their hands that reveal their character. Their hands actually express what’s in their heart and mind. For example, when an artist puts brush to canvas, his or her hands are just expressing what’s going on deep within. The same can be said of the warrior when he reaches for a weapon or the thief when he reaches for another person’s belongings; their hands reveal what’s going on in their hearts and minds.
Hands are incredibly complex things; according to one surgical text, each of our hands contains twenty-nine bones, twenty-nine joints, thirty arteries, thirty-four muscles, forty-eight nerves and at least one-hundred-twenty-three ligaments.
While hands are intricate, they’re also remarkably utilitarian. The hands that allow a baker to knead dough, also allow a surgeon to perform a heart transplant. The hands that create the scale model of a skyscraper can then be used to build that very skyscraper. Hands allow us to type more than sixty words a minute, swing a hammer, and hold something as fragile as a potato chip without breaking it.
Rather remarkably, our hands do all these things by performing two simple acts: opening and closing. So, if hands truly reveal character, they do so through the simple acts of opening and closing.
Closing our hands is an instinctive behavior; it’s not something we have to learn. For example, when a baby is born, their hands are closed to protect their fingers and if you place your finger in that baby’s palm, their hand will reflexively close around it. No one taught the baby to do either of these things. Soon the infant is closing his or her hands on rattles, plush toys or bottles and demonstrating a grip strength that belies their tiny little hands. Again, no one had to teach them to do this.
As the years go by, the baby’s hands will instinctively close around the handlebars of a bicycle, the steering wheel of a car and, maybe, the hand of someone special. And, approximately eighteen years after his or her birth, that onetime baby will attend their high school graduation where they’ll close their hands around a diploma and raise it high in celebration.
When it comes to our hands, we are natural closers; even right now, unless your hands are pressed flat against another surface, your fingers are probably curled just a bit- ready to close. Physically, closing our hands is instinctive and easy.
Anything that isn’t instinctive has to be learned and, throughout our lives, we also learn to close our hands in lots of ways. We learn to close our hands in the lecture halls of our lives where we can sit for courses with titles like “You’re Worth It” and “Just Do It.” Our instructors are absolute masters of persuasion and we can sit for one of their courses any time of day or night in lecture halls like college dorm rooms, the local coffee shop and the workplace. Different lecture halls, different instructors, but one lesson- and the lesson is, “Close your hands.” We are constantly being taught we’ll never get anywhere in life if we don’t reach out and grab what we think we need or want and, once we’ve got it in our grasp, squeeze it tight and never, ever let go. It doesn’t matter if it’s educational or professional goals, relationships or things- grab them and, once you’ve got them, close your hand and hold onto them for dear life.
In short, we’re taught that the “good life” is lived with a closed hand.
And, if you’re a conscientious student and learn this lesson well- if you learn to close your hands around people and things- here’s what happens. You develop tunnel vision and see only what you’re holding onto so desperately. Your anxiety skyrockets because you’re always worried things are slipping from your hands and you’re constantly afraid something or someone will escape your grip. Holding tight is exhausting, but you can’t let go because letting go means giving up the control you think you have and, thinking you have control, comforts you.
With your hands closed tightly around something, you can’t reach out to help others and you can’t reach out to accept the help someone might offer you.
When you live your life with closed hands, life becomes a competition and anyone who comes near is a threat because you think they’re out to get the things you’d like to grab- or worse- the things already in your closed hand. Closed hands won’t allow you to consider different ideas and they’ll keep you from experiencing new things. Ultimately, closed hands will squeeze the life out of the things you’re holding while also squeezing the life out of you.
The only alternative to living life with closed hands is, of course, to live with open hands. However, living life with open hands is not instinctive; it, too, must be learned and it’s not an easy thing to learn. You see, the opportunity to live life with open hands begins when we learn that, no matter how tightly we close our hands, life will refuse our attempts to control it; life will not be bent to meet our every desire and dream. Contrary to what the Victorian-era, English poet Ernest Henley suggested- and contrary to what we’ve been taught in the lecture halls of our lives- we are not the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls.
God is the master- not of our fates- but of a life He made in secret and He is no captain; He is THE King. Proverbs 16:9 says it this way, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
God alone is in control and I have a choice: either I trust Him or I don’t.
It’s only when we surrender control and trust God that we’re able to live life with open hands, but trusting God is nothing less than life altering and, a lot of the time, it’s really scary. I think God knew how difficult this would be for us, so, in His infinite wisdom, He demonstrated His trustworthiness by repeatedly opening His hands to us. After creating man- after literally giving him the breath of life- He opened His hands and gave him everything else He’d already created. When His people got hungry, He opened His hands and provided manna. When they suffered from thirst, once again, He opened His hands and provided. His open hands provided laws and commandments for guidance, a Promised Land for a home and His written word for you and me. And, in a matchless demonstration of what it means to live with open hands, God the Father gave us His own Son. His Son walked this earth- just as you and I do today- and constantly demonstrated what it looks like to live life with open hands. In the ultimate expression of living with open hands, the Son of God allowed His open hands to be nailed to a wooden cross where He would die so you and I might be reconciled to God.
If we truly understand all we’ve received from the open hands of God the Father and God the Son, we’ll be compelled to live our lives with open hands. It will mean extending others the mercy, grace and forgiveness that have been lavished upon us. It’ll also mean exchanging safety for vulnerability and living with humility and empathy.When you live with open hands, you commit to the possibility that life may take things from your hand, things you’d like to keep. Living with open hands also comes with the possibility that life may drop something into your hand that you never wanted.
Living life with open hands means seeking connection and demonstrating a willingness to engage others holding ideas that might challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones. Living with open hands allows us to give and to receive.
When the religious leaders of the day asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment, we all know what He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Very simply, the love we have for our neighbor reflects whether we love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
So, what does loving our neighbor look like? Augustine asked this same question and then offered an answer: “(Love) has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Love has feet, eyes and ears, but, for Augustine, love begins with the hands. “Love has the hands to help others.” It’s our hands that reveal what’s really in hour heart and mind.
So, Covenant Christian Academy class of 2019, which one will it be? Will you live with closed or opened hands?