(A guest post by Coty, written originally for our church's weekly email and blog. I added a few pictures from recent days)
"On Saturday, Beth and I left Joel at Chapel Hill. We have now sent six children off to college. Our once rarely-quiet home has become mostly-quiet. Years of always being asked to read a book or rub a back or play “Dangerous Criminals” (or Uno or Quiddler or Knockout or Superfluous Ball or Friscup) have ended. We miss all our children – though at this point, we especially miss Joel. Oh, we miss what we would do with him; but we also miss just knowing he is in the house – knowing that at any moment we might smell his coffee or see him reading or hear him walk in the door. Yes, we can always call (and thankfully phone calls and Skype are so much easier than only a few years ago), but what we miss is not only talking, but, in part, just being. Being together.
For those of you who have not yet said goodbye to a child: It doesn’t get any easier. Daughters, perhaps, are harder than sons, but the fifth boy was as hard as the first.
Eleven years on from leaving our eldest at college, we see more clearly than ever the joys of having adult children: The continued partnership in life, the sharing of what we each learn about marriage and jobs and family, and especially the sweetness of a granddaughter asking, “Will you read Piggy in a Puddle to me, Papa?”
So we know that leaving Joel at Chapel Hill is a necessary and important step toward that future, deep relationship.
Nevertheless, no matter how much you tell yourself that this is a step you have been preparing your child for all his life, no matter how much you know that she is the Lord’s not yours, no matter how confident you are in his relative wisdom and solid faith, no matter how happy you are about her choice of college – sending a child off surprisingly feels like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart – your abdomen is open and someone is cutting away at your guts.
But as Michael Gerson recently wrote, one of the very best things about life is having “a short stage in another’s story:” The great privilege of watching elbows and feet poke against Mommy’s abdomen; the responsibility of feeding, protecting, and providing for a helpless infant; the joy of watching a toddler take a few steps, stumble and try again; the warmth of a sleepy child cuddling in your arms; the laughter of family gatherings; the mischievous smiles of boys, covered in mud, running toward their mother; the times day after day reading God’s Word, as well as reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and The Narnian Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings and The Tempest andDavid Copperfield. The struggle of disciplining in love; the confessions when discipline is too harsh; the long discussions with a teen struggling with the opening act of adulthood; the look of accomplishment the first time a boy beats his daddy (without handicaps!) in ping pong, or HORSE or running; the sweetness of porch time on a summers evening; the hours and hours over the years spent together in prayer.
We long for such days to continue. To never come to end. To be permanent.
C.S. Lewis suggests that this longing for permanence indicates that we are made for another existence: An existence which, indeed, will last forever and ever – where there will be no more time limits, no rush to go on to the next pressing responsibility.
Perhaps he’s right. But this week I’ve focused on a different possible parallel – a parallel between the parent’s pain of separation and God the Father’s pain. Is there a reflection, at least slight, in the parent’s pain of the pain the Father experienced at the cross? The Apostle John tells us, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” He loved – and so He gave. He gave up. He lost something.
We sometimes think that, while Jesus experienced pain at the cross, God the Father did not. He planned the event; He knew clearly the outcome of this mission. But as we’ve noted, parents often know that leaving home is the right decision, with all sorts of future joys conditional on that step – and yet we feel great pain. Is God the Father’s pain somewhat similar? Did He feel pain, seeing His Son suffer, seeing His Son take on Himself the wrath appropriate for punishing all the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him, seeing the mysterious separation between the Son and Himself – even though He knew this was His perfect plan to redeem a people for Himself?
I don’t know. But I do know that I am incredibly grateful to God – and to Beth, my superb partner in parenting – for the privilege of 30 years of raising children in our home. It does, at this point, seem a short stage in their lives. We say to them what Paul said to the Ephesian elders when he never expected to see them again: “Now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
I look forward to those brief, future times when we can once again come together as a family. And I long all the more for the Final Day, when all God’s lost and separated children will be brought together to rejoice in Him, to delight in God’s work in one another, and to live out for eternity the joys of life in an intimate family – the true joy that was reflected in our intimate earthly family for a few, short decades."