This is harder than I thought it would be: dropping off my son for college
I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said walking his daughter down the aisle and leaving her there is like…
I think it was Chuck Swindoll who said walking his daughter down the aisle and leaving her there is like holding your priceless Stradivarius violin and handing it to a gorilla.
That’s sort of how I feel as I get ready to drop my number 2 son off for his freshman year of college.
I have been dreading this for months now. Like the dust cloud that follows Charlie Brown’s friend Linus, the grief of our parting has hovered closely for a while. Already I wince when walking by Andrew’s room, knowing it will soon sit empty. No more rising in the mornings to see the shape of his familiar lump on the top bunk. No more guitar tones wafting from that room at odd hours as he works out the chords of a new song. No more wrestling matches on the floor. No more stealth trips in after he is sleeping, to touch his head and pray over him to convey a blessing on him.
I guess what makes it hard is that I love him so much it hurts.
Last night Karla and Andrew were sorting through his old things, throwing and keeping, packing and reminiscing. To me it’s like one of those slideshows of a person’s life you see at a Memorial service. Oh there’s the craft project from 4th grade, and that caricature drawing of his skinny face by the artist at Disney from the time Andrew went with me on a business trip, pictures of golf outings together, soccer trophies. Our life together flashes before me. I want it to be joyful and happy, knowing this is a launch pad to a beautiful future. But last night it felt a bit like death. Or at least grief. Probably because regret and a nagging fear I missed something or failed him pokes at my brain uninvited. My eyes burn hot and wet. I walk out to collect myself.
A friend tried to comfort me by relating his own experience dropping off their second child at college: “We bawled all the way home. But in a couple of months we were pretty much back to normal.”
Um, thanks. That really helps.
I know in my moments of sane thinking that as a Christ follower, the purpose and goal with kids is to help them grow up to be an independent person. One who will do things and live life on their own. One who will make a decision to follow Jesus and walk wisely and humbly with God on their own. The goal is not to clip their wings so they hover at home but to help them fly freely and fully toward the calling God has for them. They can’t do that in the nest. So the time comes when you choke back tears and sort through their stuff.
When our first son Nathan was a baby, our friend Donna Hardy at Grandview Church in Tennessee led the parent and child dedication service. She stood and said, “You know, these children aren’t ours. They are God’s children. They are made by God and belong to God. Always have. God loans them to us for a time, entrusting them to our care. He asks that we love them well for him and then return them to him. That is what we are here to do today.”
My kid wasn’t even out of diapers and people were telling me to give him up.
This is every parent’s prayer: “Father, help me to open my hands, to release to you this child who clings so tightly to me now … and to whom I want to cling so tightly.”
I know my kids aren’t mine. They are God’s. But you sometimes forget that for a period of years, as you’re making sandwiches for lunch and rushing out the door to catch the school bus, and cheering on the sidelines of volleyball games and keeping watch through the night with the throw-up bucket. But then comes a day when the bald truth of it is forced on you: you can’t hold them.
Like when you drop off your kid for kindergarten. Or the first day of middle school. Or when you leave your Stradivarius in the hands of Gorilla University.
Nathan’s name means “Gift of God.” For a long time I thought he was God’s gift to me – God gave him to me. Turns out I’m giving him right back to God.
And now it’s happening all over again with Andrew.
Richard Foster in his excellent book on prayer has a whole chapter devoted to a special kind of prayer called Relinquishment. Praying a prayer of relinquishment is about surrender. Letting go. Trusting God. Releasing things to the Lord.
This is what faith in God boils down to. Relinquishment. We often rail against our fears, pretending we can fend off life’s pain and losses. We kick against all the things we can’t control. Relinquishment is not resignation. It’s trustfully surrendering things into the gracious hands of a good and powerful God.
Relinquishment can be bitter and terrible if it is prying from our white knuckled grip that which we love and want to keep. But when we are opening our hands in beautiful surrender, releasing in trust to Jesus what we cannot keep or control anyway – then relinquishment is a freeing, joyful rest.
See Jesus, dangling in pain on a cross of wood as he cries out through tears, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” The prayer of relinquishment. Had he clung to his life, the plans of God and love itself would have been thwarted. Relinquishment releases a greater love the will of God to flow through our lives. Apparently sometimes this doesn’t feel good.
So dropping your kid off at college isn’t really handing a Stradivarius to a gorilla. Turns out our only job with the violin is to get it strung and roughly in tune before handing it over to the Master. The best music is only just beginning. This is why, even through my occasional blubbering, I’m excited and glad for my son and his future.
But then there is also the realization that part of what I’m letting go of is my own life. Andrew’s life is in a real sense just beginning. My life and my part in his is naturally diminishing. As Michael Gerson says in the Washington Post, parenthood is a lesson in humility. “The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.”
Andrew my friend, the eighteen year window closes this week, too quickly for my liking. I will miss you so much. But the days we’ve shared are a treasure, a great privilege and joy of my life. Don’t forget to hit me up on Google Hangout once in a while. I know our relationship will grow from here. But today, I pray a prayer of relinquishment. I say words I want my heart to feel. Words of trust. Surrender. Letting go of what I want to cling to, knowing you are better off in the hands of your heavenly Father.
I suspect we all have something to relinquish.
How might you complete this prayer: “Into your hands I commit my ________.”
- Into your hands I commit my child.
- Into your hands I commit my family.
- Into your hands I commit my health.
- Into your hands I commit my job.
- Into your hands I commit my school year.
- Into your hands I commit my fear, my hopes, my worries, my life.
May as well surrender it to the Lord. It’s been his all along anyway.