Though I have been through it before, and it's coming was as sure as the seasons changing, I still was not able to fend off the sadness it brings.
I'm carrying around this strange grief because my bright, bouncy, beautiful daughter is no longer here, having been transported off to college last week. We've come again to that stage that all Christian parenting is inevitably heading toward. The child whose birth you witnessed, whose birthmarks you know, whose birthdays you celebrated, has moved out and will never live the same way under your roof again.
I know all the comforts that will be offered and even jokes that will be made, so do not bother writing them in the comment section. I'm a little touchy right now. Besides, I've heard them already, be it from well-meaning friends or the hollow words rolling around in my own mind that I use to try to comfort myself. Here's how the mental battle goes:
- "You cannot hold on to them forever." I know, but why did eighteen years have to be so short?
- "She's enrolled in a program she loves at a great school." I am truly excited for her, but that does zilch for this grief feeling.
- "She has a great church to attend." Yes, I know. She was not sitting in her spot in our pew yesterday.
- "She's only an hour away." Last week she was only a room away.
- "She has a great living situation with wonderful roommates." Yes, I agree. They get to be with her daily unlike me anymore.
- "Other parents seem matter-of-fact and even relieved when their kid leaves." They must be in denial.
- "Your school's motto is Sicut Sagittae (Like Arrows) from Psalm 127. You've told others the goal of Christian parenting is to send our children out battle-ready into the world." I feel like changing that motto.
- "You have cell phones and can talk to her anytime." Why does my voice keep cracking when I do?
- "You're just being melodramatic and starting to sound like a bad country song." Sue me.
In all seriousness, when the great focus of Christian parenthood is to raise your children in the Lord's fear and to enjoy the blessing they are to you, the time of sending them out is a mixture of joy and a sadness that I can only explain is akin to grief. For you begin to realize you will no longer know and see the daily experiences of your child. You see a piece of clothing that is hers, a note she left behind, or her picture, and you feel the heart pangs again. You see younger siblings weeping because the older brother and sister they shared a room with are not there anymore. Your family structure is not the same anymore, as everyone has to make adjustments to fill in the gap of responsibilities the absent child used to do. As we see three children leave for school and work within a week at this summer's end, going from five to two children at home, it almost feels like an entirely different family will be left behind. Indeed, in some ways, it will be.
As my wife and I drove away last week discussing this once again through some tears, we sought to relate this, as all things, to the cross. We thought on the mystery of how the Father must have felt when He sent His Son to the earth. It gave us comfort knowing our Triune God can relate to the emotions that separation brings. We do look by faith through the sorrow of separation to the joy of sending our children out for the King.
So I write this to join with that chorus of older parents we heard when our children were younger, who told us, "They will grow up faster than you think, so enjoy them while you can." For though I can pray the Lord will spare you from other parental griefs, every Christian parent will face this one.