Banner Brock '16, recipient of the Walker Casey Award, delivered the devotional at the Baccalaureate service for the graduating Class of 2016. Mr. Brock will attend Clemson University in the fall. The transcript of his talk is below.
During my time at McCallie, I have grown physically, spiritually, and mentally. I have matured, learned a lot, and really enjoyed myself. We all have. Our years together have flown by, as if everything is moving in fast motion. After all this time of nonstop activity, tonight we all have the opportunity to slow down, to stop for a moment and reflect.
It seems to me that we often get too caught up in the tasks directly in front of us that we forget to enjoy the people around us and the amazing world in which we live. Especially tonight as we come to the end of a long period of focusing on the things directly in front of us, I hope that we can take time to notice all the wonderful people that surround us. There is so much to do, but life passes quickly, and if we don’t slow down, we just might miss it.
In his novel, The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho shares a story about a boy visiting the wisest man in the world, seeking to learn his wisdom. Upon arriving, the wise man is occupied greeting guests at his castle, so he gives the boy a teaspoon of oil and requests that he explore the magnificent castle while holding the teaspoon. So the boy does, yet when he returns the wise man is disappointed because the boy cannot recall any details about the castle.
“Did you not enjoy the glorious beauty of the castle, its paintings, architecture, and gardens?” he asks. The boy is embarrassed because he had been so focused on not spilling the oil that he failed to notice the beauty all around him. “Go again,” the man tells him. “But this time be sure to enjoy your surroundings.”
So the boy does. He takes a tour and is awestruck by the grandiosity of the home and its fascinating adornments. But when he returns the man points out to the boy that he has spilled all of the oil from the teaspoon, once again causing the boy to be embarrassed.
The wise man pulls the boy aside and declares, “The key to happiness is to enjoy the amazing world around you while also keeping an eye on the things entrusted to your care, to notice the beauty of the castle while keeping the teaspoon full.”
We will soon head out into an amazing world. There will be much to do and many places to see. So I encourage everyone to dive in, to experience all this world has to offer, and to enjoy yourself. At the same time though, don’t forget about your duties or the people in your life; keep your cup full.
But before we can worry about any of that, we must take that first step out into the world. For many of us, I think the next step is a daunting one.
We are about to leave this incredible community, which can be paralyzing. But I remind you of this: when I think back on those boys entering McCallie a short while ago, they who shall soon walk across that stage as men, I think of boys with big dreams and plans. Boys who aspired to be like those who had come before them. But I think it is safe to say that none of those boys really imagined being where they are today. I know I didn’t. And yet here we are. Proverbs 16:9 reads, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
We are all here today as a direct result of the work of another, one who has gone before us and who has guided us thus far despite our hesitations and failures. We are led by parents, teachers, and friends who have loved, encouraged, and challenged us and a God who has foreseen good things in our future and prepared a way before us. It is in following His path that we can safely arrive at the destination. However, sometimes that path can be hard to make out. I often feel as though I can’t see the next step to take.
When I was in Uganda this past summer, I was on a walk in the countryside one afternoon with my Ugandan friend, Godfrey (whom the children affectionately called “Uncle Godfrey” or “Uncle God” for short). I was enjoying his company as we made our way back home to the boys orphanage where I was staying. However, the sun set while we were only halfway there, and the ensuing darkness made it impossible for me to find my way back. I knew where I was headed, but I couldn’t see the way to go. The enveloping darkness made the path much harder to distinguish.
On my own I surely would’ve gotten lost or misstepped and hurt myself on the surrounding barbed wire or rough terrain. But Uncle God knew the way. He had walked it before many times, and he knew what difficulties lay ahead. So he led the way. He took great care of me as he shone his flashlight on my path just behind him, illuminating my footsteps as I walked along. In this manner I was obliged to follow, taking one step at a time and trusting that Uncle God would lead me home safely.
Wherever the next chapter of your life may take you, remember that there will always be others there beside you. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” says Ecclesiastes 4:12.
As you go through your days, don’t get bogged down in the mundanity of life so as to miss those all around you. Find the people that make you stronger and keep them close. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Surround yourself with a community that will continue to build you up. Not only so, but take comfort in the fact that God has gone before you, placing others in your path to encourage and guide you.
When you are surrounded by darkness and the path becomes harder to see, trust that God will show you the next step. He may not use a flashlight, and He may show you only the next step, but that is okay. Take each step one at a time with confidence.
We are not alone.
I leave you with a verse. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Let’s rest in that comforting truth tonight and live in it as we take the next step by leaving this place tomorrow. May God bless your path and always show you the way to go.