Dear Parent of a High School Senior
The weird thing is now I’m exactly where I want to be. I’ve got my dream job at Cornell, and I’m still just thinking about my old pals. Only now they’re the ones I made here. I wish there was a way to know you’re in “the good old days” before you’ve actually left them.
Somebody should write a song about that.
I’ve developed a habit of stress-binging episodes of The Office, usually because the team at Dunder Mifflin can pull me out of a mental spin cycle. But Andy Bernard made me cry with those lines this week, and I know exactly why.
I have a high school senior. In fact, he is my third and final senior, and I am, as they say, feeling all the feels.
Of course I am thrilled and excited for him. He is headed to college, where he will meet new people and learn new things, neither of which he can do here at home. He’s swapping a telephoto view for a wide-angle one; he gets to choose what’s next for himself, rather than marching down a path that’s mostly been determined for him. He’s ready, or he will be by May.
And yet typing that out makes me ache inside.
I remember boxing up the baby clothes – those tiny little shirts, the first ones hardly bigger than a Kleenex. Those things dried in no time flat, unlike the enormous blue jeans he wears now that need the full forty minutes. I felt that ache when I folded those tiny clothes for the last time, and I can feel it now as he fills out college applications, orders his cap and gown, adjusts his tie for one last Homecoming dance. He’s outgrowing this place as surely as he outgrew those little shirts, and the time is coming to let him go.
Senior year tastes bittersweet.
Some afternoons he’s home from school for ten minutes before he heads out again, yelling over his shoulder that he has this practice and that study group and won’tbehomefordinnerbye. Other days he huffs and puffs at me because he’s out of deodorant or his favorite shorts aren’t washed and apparently I was supposed to read his mind and do his chores for him. (In fairness, for many years I did both.) He is preparing both of us for his independence, which he will accomplish by fits and starts and not without some terse words between the two of us.
Like I said, bittersweet.
I have to work hard to stay in the moment, not to see the towheaded toddler with impossibly chubby cheeks but the young man with wavy brown(!) hair who is here now, even though he won’t be next October. I do not want to lose this time to nostalgia or to fear of the future. For me, the work looks like this:
When I am tempted to regret – and there is so much I could regret – I confess to God all the things undone and unsaid, the ways in which I have failed. I remind myself that in Jesus, God has covered all my wrongheaded parenting choices, all the times I could have given my son Jesus and just snapped at him instead. There are just so many things I wish I could do over, and yet all those things will somehow become useful in God’s hands.
When I am tempted to fear, I remember God goes with my boy – His boy – wherever he goes. Where will that be? We don’t know yet, and that is working patience in both of us, but God has promised never to leave him. I can count on Him; He goes where I cannot. God goes into the classroom where a professor tries to dismantle his faith. God dwells in the dorm room with the smelly socks and the roommate who drinks too much beer. God goes into the fraternity house, the cafeteria, the coffee shop with my son on dates with girls I don’t know. And God knows them all.
He will also be here with me in my too-quiet house.
When I grieve for my son’s childhood, I recall that God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So although my relationship with my grown son has changed, it is still beautiful, and it will still be beautiful in the years to come. Knowing that there is meaning and purpose for both of us makes my anticipation more eager, less fretful. I can be curious about what God will do. This does not mean I won’t be sad. It does mean I have more reason to be glad.
Finally, I rest in the Gospel. I know the love of God in Christ Jesus. I know that the blood of Jesus covers my sin, my son’s sin, and the sins of other people against him. Christ is enough for my son, and Christ is enough for me. Come what may, Jesus on the cross proved once and for all that He is for us both. Because of the Gospel, I know that the “good old days” have not passed us by; the best is yet to come.
At the end of his senior year, my son and I will stand at the edge of something unknown, but because of God, we will be full of hope. Our anticipation of this next season is just a tiny glimmer of the anticipation of what we really have to look forward to, where our joy will be sure, perfect, and forever. To quote from The Last Battle, one of his favorite books:
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say they lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one else on earth has read: which goes on for ever and ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
For further reading:
Here’s where I find rest in God’s goodness during my son’s senior year. Of course, these verses are best understood in context, but preaching these to myself is actually more helpful than binging The Office.
When I am tempted to regret:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
When I am tempted to fear:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. (Matthew 6:25-34)
I sought the Lord, and He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5)
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than them all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. John 10:29
When I grieve:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Then Samuel took up a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:12)
God’s love for us in Christ:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love God has for us. (1 John 4:15-16)
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)