He packed his belongings into a duffle bag, this boy of mine. Simple items: shorts, socks, jeans, a belt. Into ziplock bags went soap, shampoo, sunscreen. He took a separate bag for snacks and a pillow with two pillowcases. And then, in the early morning dark, my husband and I drove him to the church and he climbed into a van full of teenagers. With the sun barely rising, they drove off for their adventure. My son was gone on his first mission trip and I was left in the parking lot, watching the tail lights disappear.
I am surprised sometimes by all the parenting lessons I must learn and relearn. Being a parent is no simple task, and the work that is needed changes as we go along. When my son was born, I stood over him and protected him and nursed him and rocked him and taught him and made very sure that no one and nothing would hurt my boy. My role as his momma involved holding him close and raising him well. I worked hard at keeping him safe and tried to make my decisions based in knowledge and not in fear. Setting aside fears is a challenge for parents of teenagers, but it is what scripture instructs.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
Now my son has grown older and is no longer the toddler needing my vigilant protection. His shoulders are broad, his voice is low and he is closer to becoming the man he will be than he is to the child he once was. And I spend a lot of time reminding myself that this work of loving him and raising him is still best done thoughtfully and not fearfully.
Except now there is more to fear--the stakes are higher. When he was small, we worried about physical safety--broken bones, stitches, scrapes and bruises. Now the things we can fear are more serious than what a doctor can mend. And yet, I refuse to let those fears rule my ability to choose. Fear is an unhealthy guide for making wise choices in life. Biblical wisdom and prayer are better guides for our parenting journey.
So, even though he would spend a week in the inner city, even though there is much in that location to raise worry in my momma-heart, we packed his duffel and sent him off to do what God asked him to do. Because that is what I need to do now. My love for my child encourages me to guide my son to seek God's leading. The love of God reminds me that my child can be trusted to his Heavenly Father. Nothing will ever come between God's love for his children. Love is the trusted guide as my child stretches into God's call on his life.
It is new and it is hard but the truth is that it is time for my son to go out in the world and use what we have taught him so far. It is time for him to grow his faith with other teens who are trying to do the same. It is time for him to step away from home when he can still come back again. And it is time for me to let him. Time for me to watch him go. Time for me to bow my head and continue this dialogue of prayer that has flowed without ceasing for more than 15 years. And what I am learning now is that when my son goes off on his first mission trip, he is not the only one God will teach. This is an act of faith for him and this is an act of faith for me.
I am reminded again that this sweet boy that I get to share my life with does not, in any way, belong to me. It is a gift to be his momma, but this boy belongs to God. And when I face the reality of releasing him, this becomes abundantly clear. Clinging to him and holding him tight is not what I am called to do. Part of my role is to push him from the nest and let him discover his wings.
Seven days later, my boy came home. We unpacked that duffel and washed his clothes. Then we listened. We listened to stories he told and learned of people he met. We watched our boy, beaming with confidence as he unpacked his trip. God had his fingerprints on the whole of it, and we would see none of it if we had made our parenting decisions from a place of fear.
There are a lot of lessons we all must learn as we seek to parent our kids. Being captivated by the tales my child can tell makes even the hardest lessons worth the work. Choosing carefully is an act of faith that changes both his life, and mine.
Rev. Joel Vande Werken
Rev. Joel Vande Werken