This is what contents of a college dorm room look like when unloaded from a van at 11:00 pm after eight hours of driving. Actually, I’ve seen worse. Much worse.
All the stuff of a year at school must now be re-assimilated into our home for the summer only to be loaded up again in August. It hardly seems worth it. Nothing has a permanent place. Perhpas this photo is a fitting metaphor for our children’s lives during these transitional college and early adult years. They move in and out of our homes, dorm rooms, apartments, schools and jobs. It’s all very transient. Why bother to unpack? It can also be rather unsettling for all involved.
My husband and I have three children in various stages of launching. Our daughter has graduated college, begun a career, married a wonderful young man, and given birth to an adorable little boy, all in the last four years. We do our best to keep up with her. Our oldest son is an aspiring physician, just finishing a graduate degree in bioethics, and persevering in his efforts toward acceptance into medical school. And our youngest son just completed his freshman year in college.
As parents, we are learning to shift our approach from direct and active involvement in the lives of our children to a more advisory role. I don’t always recognize the transition points. One day, while making a peanut butter sandwich many years ago, I realized, “Wait a minute! He can do this himself. Why am I still making sandwiches?” I made them because I had been spreading peanut butter for years and it had never occurred to me to hand over the jelly jar.
It’s one thing to hand over a jelly jar; it’s another to hand off a future. It’s one thing to pack a lunch; it’s another to pack for a year at college.
In some ways the handoff is delightful; in others it is very difficult. I love watching our young adult children discover and pursue their passions. My husband and I observe their decisions and plans with genuine interest, joy, and support. But when my chidlren face obstacles or when they struggle, I still want to fix things for them. (As if I could.) I know that they must face their unique challenges themselves. We offer consistent support, advice and help,but we cannot fight their battles for them.
I find encouragement to parent from this removed vantage point from a rather obscure story in the Old Testament. Shortly after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, (think Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments) the Israelites were attacked by a hostile nation. Moses was over eighty years old by then, so he was not the guy to lead a military defense. Instead he chose his apprentice, Joshua, to recruit an army and fight the battle. While younger men were fighting, Moses stood on a hill holding up the staff of God. “As long as Moses held up his hand, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:11.) Instead of fighting himself, Moses stood with his hands up all day, and the battle was won.
When I watch my children face trials that I cannot fix for them, I desire to be Moses with my hands up in prayer, support, encouragement and with any appropriate help I can offer. Ultimately, however, they must fight their own battles, and I must trust the Lord to help them overcome the challenges they are facing. It’s a winning strategy.