It’s a sobering feeling, sending your child away. That first morning dropping them at school or putting them on the bus is a reality check. At least it was for me. My moment came a few years ago as I dropped my oldest son off for his first morning of preschool. It wasn’t the first time he had been away from me, but this was different than a morning in Sunday School, a night with the babysitter, or a weekend at Grandma’s. For the first time, I was putting my child into the hands of people I didn’t really know and a situation where I had little influence. There’s a lot that can go wrong. The media has done a thorough job reminding us that every time a child leaves our sight we may never see him again, and even though I am something of an emotional curmudgeon, that idea sometimes brings a cold dread into my heart. More than that, I had no guarantee that these “other people” took the responsibility to guide my child into adulthood seriously. I had no guarantee that they didn’t harbor hidden desires to damage and harm him for their own pleasure. I had no guarantee that he would make friends and discover all the joys that come with that. Maybe people would be mean. I had experienced some of that as a child and desperately wish my sons will be spared those experiences. But they won’t, will they? People will be mean. People will harm them. People will put their own desires above the well-being of these little ones. I have zero control over that. On that first morning, I came to the realization that the only thing I can control is the last words my child hears me say before I let him go. So, that morning, and every morning since, I grabbed that little man by the shoulders, looked straight into his eyes and whispered three things:
A Truth: I Love You
For several years now, I have volunteered working with young adults. I have worked with some great young men and women and some damaged young men and women. I have seen the addicted, depressed, and mentally ill. I have seen the long-term results when a person has never received the affirmation that they are loved. It’s as if the foundation for all of life has been pulled from beneath them and every event, every challenge, is a threat to the very core of their being. These people flounder and wander. They are lost, because they do not know that they are loved. I would trade all the wealth in all the world to save my children from that life. The truth is that we are all loved. You are loved. I am loved. They are loved. The foundation of the Universe, the truth that is holding it all together, is love. If you have not faced that reality in your life, I encourage you to explore the person of Jesus Christ and reflect on his love for you. You are loved with a ferocity that is both terrifying and wonderful to experience. Whatever happens in the next day, whatever wonders or tragedies befall you, one truth does not change. You are loved. So, I grab my son by the shoulders, look straight into his eyes and whisper, “I love you.”
A Blessing: I Am Proud of You
There is a wonderful practice in some cultures, well attested to in the Old Testament, of an aged father calling his sons to him to receive a blessing before he dies. By no means does this practice need to be restricted to sons! A blessing is an affirmation of a person’s strengths and a prediction of the continuation of strength into the future. A blessing tells a child that the parent believes in her strength and is excited to see that strength shared. A blessing is a statement of pride. This child of mine has something to offer the world, and I want him to know that. I am proud of him.
Now, am I always proud of my child? No and yes. There was the time we were at the grocery store. My hands were full at checkout and a woman in a wheelchair in the next aisle dropped her purse on the floor. She could not reach it and I asked my son to go and help her. He did not go. I was not proud of his actions in that situation and I let him know that. There are times when we will not be proud of the actions of our children. They will make poor choices. They will pursue lies. They will hurt others. In those situations we must express our own hurt and disappointment to them, but does that negate the blessing? Does the fact that my child sometimes acts in ways I wish he didn’t mean that I no longer believe that he was made for a purpose and has something positive to offer the world? Does is negate my belief that he has the power to turn to a different path and change? No, my pride in his potential and my blessing for his future thrive, even if he struggles. So, I grab my son by the shoulders, look straight into his eyes and whisper, “I am proud of you.”
A Hope: You’re Gonna Have a Great Day!
I have complete control over my love. I can offer it or withhold it at my choosing. I only control half of my blessing. I offer it, but my son must accept it and live in it for it to come true. I have no control over the hope I offer to my son every morning. It is just that: Hope. I hope that life treats my children well. I hope that they find a community that loves them and supports them. I hope they find their way into places where they can potently exercise their gifts in the service of others. I hope that their dreams succeed. I hope they find confidence in who God made them to be despite their own shortcomings. I also hope that they never feel hunger or poverty, that they never experience life on either end of the gun, and that they never have to stand against the toes of bullies and speak a truth I wish they did not know. But I cannot control these things.
So far, life has treated my children well. School has been an eye-opening exploration of knowledge. Friends have been kind and generous. Whatever bumps life has given us have, in hindsight, been mild. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will continue in the same way, but we hope. If life brings hardship, we continue to hope that it will work out for the good. This is a legacy I want to pass to my son. So, I grab him by the shoulders, look him straight in the eye and whisper, “You’re gonna have a great day!”
The Legacy Continues
Our oldest son is in kindergarten now. When the weather is nice we walk to school. He rides his bike, our middle son rides with training wheels, and the youngest is pushed in the stroller. It is a great way to start the morning, and as we wait in front of the school I grab the oldest by the shoulders and share my little message. Last week, our middle son had the chance to attend a one-week preschool preview before beginning in earnest in the fall. As we stood outside waiting for the classroom to open on the first morning, I felt a tug on my sleeve. I looked down to see my son; jacket zipped to the neck and backpack snuggly tightened on both shoulders. He looked so ready for life, yet so tiny at the same time. He looked up and me and said, “Daddy, can you look at my face and tell me your secrets?” So, I knelt in front of him, grabbed the straps of his backpack, looked straight in those wonderful little eyes and told him, “I love you. I am proud of you. You’re gonna have a great day!” And. . . he did.