Earlier this week, my teenage son decided, on his own, not to move out and go to a college far away.
We talked until 1am the other night. I didn’t lecture him, just listened. He came to it all on his own…though he has no idea how hard mom and I have been praying. He’ll probably be around at least another year.
Happy (early) Father’s Day to me. Seriously.
Honestly, it was hard as parents not to try and rip the steering wheel from his hands…literally. Singing “Jesus take the wheel” is a lot easier when it’s your own car that’s about to crash. But for parents, it’s hard for us to remember it’s not really “our car” we’re trying to drive anyway. It’s theirs.
I know you’ve seen FINDING NEMO by now, with the story of a parent who can’t let their child face the normal risks of the world. The father’s reasoning is all-too-familiar – there’s been tragedy in the past, his son is already wounded – so the father must step in to protect…and control.
It’s that control our kids begin to despise as they make the transition to adulthood. We call it “protection”. They call it “suffocation”.
God calls it “idolatry”.
Why is it so difficult for us to let our kids make their own decisions?
Because they’ll make mistakes, of course…just like we did.
Why do we think God would choose to work any differently in their lives?
The nasty truth is, we’re afraid we’ll have trouble loving the people they’ll become. That’s because we have this little “idol” of them we’ve been bowing down to for years now, and they’re starting to bear no resemblance to it whatsoever. We worshipped our idol by surrounding it with the “perfect environments” – church, home, school – inputting the perfect information – morals, ethics, goals – and waiting around for the perfect child to appear.
That idol is the one we won’t have to wait up nights worrying about. The one we can take credit for without cringing over a couple of sketchy life-choices. The one we never have to forgive, explain, or apologize for.
Sometimes, in a fit of desperation, parents try to shove their kids back into their original “idol” plaster cast. They pray for some trick that will change them back into “who they were before”. They rarely realize that “who they were before” wasn’t real. It was only a “graven image” the parent had worshipped, and that now their child has rejected.
So what do you do when they won’t fit back into the mold? When they’ve already got scares too deep to paint over?
You toss your idol in the trash, and embrace your real child, warts and all. You don’t affirm wrong choices, but you affirm their right to make those choices. And you stop trying to manipulate them, and wait for God to do the work His way.
The good news is that this time, if you butt out, the God they finally end up following will be their own and not just a faded copy of yours.
I’ve realized my perfect idol was never really what God had in mind in the first place. He knew before He formed them they would mess up, go the wrong way, get damaged…and eventually learn. That was not my plan, but it was His.
It’s Monday now, and I just got my Father’s Day card. Sunday’s are tough for pastor’s families anyway, but yesterday was a bear. A new foster child had been dropped off with us for the weekend, and then my daughter started throwing up Sunday morning. By Sunday evening, my wife was sick. And the boys are…well, boys. That plus two babies had us in survival mode.
But it’s all good. I got my Father’s Day present when my son decided not to move out.
After all, the best gifts are the ones you can’t wrap…
…like a car (couldn’t resist that joke…I sounded so spiritual up till then).
I guess watching your kids grow up is like getting a late Father’s Day card. It’s not always exactly the timing you might have wished for. But the gift is never really about the card.
It’s all about the present. Or in this case, who is still “present” with me.