I am on the cusp of marrying off my second daughter and the last of my three children. With each marriage, there is always a mix of emotions to deal with. There is joy at seeing your children launch into the world with a spouse. There is even greater joy when you like their choices, as I do. There is a sense of uncertainty and insecurity about letting them go, despite the fact that you’ve worked all their lives to help make that happen. There is delight, too. Delight in who they’ve become. Delight in the gifts and abilities they’ve discovered they have. Delight in finding yourself and your spouse in them. Delight in finding something new neither you nor your spouse have.
Then, of course, there is also sadness: a dull, lingering sense of deep loss that gets mixed up with all the rest. It takes time to sort it out. For me, there is sadness at the quick passage of time and the memories that push their way up to the surface. Life really is as short as people told me it was. Going the extra mile with my kids to have a special day with them really did count. Eventually, I find that I’m reminiscing like only older people can and saying things like, “I remember like yesterday the first time when ….” There are past joys that bring sadness. Joys that I wish I could experience again. There is pain that saddens, too. Pain I wish I could undo for them.
And there is that inevitable, awful, passing review of great lessons learned too late. Among them: no one will remember how many hours you spent at work. No one cares how well this project went or that talk was received, because there are always more projects and more talks until the day comes when there aren’t any more to undertake. Yes, no one remembers or cares except your grown kids who somehow got shaped or misshaped because of it. Just like you did. Just like their kids probably will. And just like you, some are hurt by this kind of thing; some are harmed. And most of us parents never quite know which is which, but we regret it. If only we had been wiser, and listened better to the older people who told us when we were young that these little ones who couldn’t stop talking and running and playing would be up and gone far sooner than we could imagine. They were right, of course. And now I’m doing what they did. And probably no one is listening.
The one thing I don’t regret is my imperfect but persistent pursuit of Jesus over the years. I do know this for certain: kids watch closely for clues about what matters and what doesn’t. They look intently to discover how life is to be lived as a result. What each child does with Christ is ultimately out of our hands. But what each child will not be able to forget is the powerful lesson forged in the push and pull of life, is that of all the things that one might live for, only Jesus is worth the effort in the end.
As for the rest of life’s smaller lessons, I wonder sometimes if many of them aren’t lessons that only life and experience can teach. I suspect that there are some things we must learn for ourselves. Most of us tend to be brilliant in our twenties, wonders of the modern world to have been brought up by such dull people we call our parents. The good news is that this changes. And when it does, when parents are finally recognized as having a clue about life, perhaps one of the best gifts they can give is to forego the hectoring about what truly important. Another is to choose instead to suggest that their “one day” will come soon enough and that it will be probably like everyone else’s. It will be a mix of joy and sadness, of regret and delight that doesn’t quite add up or make complete sense but is true and unchangeable. At the least we can help them be prepared for their “one day.” Who knows? It may be that some part of them listens to the suggestions and they go a little farther and do a little better.