College, Rome, Or Paul?
In five weeks my youngest will leave for college. I feel the clock ticking away and time running out, that last bit of time I have to pour into him the things that matter most and the things I want to matter most to him.
And I’ll be honest, without Roger I usually feel I’m doing an inadequate job because 1) Roger was so good at it–wise and patient and intentional daily in his shepherding of our boys, and 2) because it’s so much easier to parent with the other parent there. Regardless, it falls only to me now even if/when it feels too difficult or too overwhelming or too lonely.
And as the summer passes, I feel the squeeze of the rushing days and the ever present “what have I forgotten to teach him?” circling round and round as he turns 18 and prepares to leave home.
So I pray a lot these days. That he’ll be protected (he’ll be 5+ hours away, for Pete’s sake), make right choices, align himself with the right kind of friends, grow stronger in his relationship with God, and commit to attending a solid, Christ-teaching church while there.
And then, in true “mothering” form, I sneak in a prayer that nothing bad will ever happen to him, that he’ll never ever make bad choices, and that he’ll never ever, ever end up in a bad “life” place. “Bad” being completely up to my interpretation, of course.
Which of course means I hear the screech of the needle across the vinyl. “Stop right there,” I hear God say. “What you call evil, I may call good. And what you call good, I will know if it is evil. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways… For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” (Is. 55:8-9)
And I am reminded that all I can do is surrender Logan to God and pray his safekeeping in God’s care. “Safekeeping” being completely up to God’s intrepretation as I’m reminded of an excerpt from the book God of All Comfort by Hannah Whitall Smith:
“The mother of St. Augustine, in her longing and praying for the conversion of her son, also prayed that he might not go to Rome, as she feared its dissipations. (Translation: Rome was quite the city of debauchery at the time, and she didn’t want her boy anywhere near there.) God actually answered by sending her son to Rome to be converted there. You see, things we call good are often God’s evil things, and our evil is His good. But, however things may look, we always know that God must give the best because He is God and can do no other.”
I also came across this passage in the Bible where Paul is writing a letter to his friend Philemon (a Christian) about Philemon’s slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had run away to escape punishment for a theft he committed against Philemon and somehow found himself in the same location as the apostle Paul. So Paul does what Paul does, of course, and shares the gospel with Onesimus, who then becomes a Christ-follower. Paul is now (while in prison for telling others about Jesus) writing to Philemon, seeking reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. And here’s the part that jumps out at me:
“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment… I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart… For this is perhaps why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” –Philemon 1:10-16
It’s like Paul is saying, “Yes, Onesimus made some bad choices, then tried to run away from the consequences of those choices. He left you and ended up here. And just think, in all that if he hadn’t, he might never have ended up here and committed his life to Christ, and to being reconciled to you. “
And there it is. Again. God redeeming the bad for His good. God’s ability to redeem the bad for His good.
So in light of that, here’s what I know. We have to allow our kids to make their own way. We have to allow them to stand (or fall) on their own two feet, making their own life choices, and forging their own unique and personal relationships with God. That might mean we have to trust God if (when?) they choose to go to “Rome” a time or two. (Remember, St. Augustine found God while he was there, in spite of how bad “there” was.)
(Side note: I am still, however, informing Logan that we are simply not packing enough for a foray into Rome, in hopes that will deter him.)
In the end, what do we do if our young adults make some less than desireable choices and seem to, or actually do, “run away” for awhile like Onesimus? Then we pray they end up right next to a “Paul” or two who’ll stop them in their tracks.
(Side note again: Trust me Logan, you don’t want a “Paul” to rain down all over your head. That dude was one tough Christ-following cookie.)
So the end question for me as I send my youngest on his way and into his own life is simply this: do I trust God? Do I trust him with Logan’s good and with Logan’s bad? Because God is either trustworthy or He is not. And knowing I have done all I can, I can then either choose to “run into God’s strong tower” (Prov. 18:10) carrying my child in my heart and in my prayers with me, or stay outside its walls, pacing and wringing my hands over all that could go wrong as if the King Himself is not in residence there, perfectly aware of the situation, and perfectly able to move as He sees fit.
In the end, I know this about God and God’s love for my child: on any day of the week it surpasses mine. Therefore, I trust God with Logan because I know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us (Logan) from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39)
Not on any given day.
Not in any given place.