In the past week, my oldest completed his freshmen year and began taking his driver’s education courses. I swear he was just driving his Little Tykes Crazy Coupe down the sidewalk. Next week, we will be celebrating my middle son’s promotion from eighth grade and signing him up for his high school courses. In a few weeks, I’ll be sending both of them off to YoungLife camp together. I act like I am fine when it’s needed. I smile when I drop them off to hang out with friends. But I give myself at least once a week to pray and process and cry a little (okay, sometimes it’s more like a lot).
I see all the cutesy instagram pictures of the marbles or rocks or fluffy, colorful cotton balls in the jar showing how many weeks we have left with our children. In the early years of motherhood, I see the need for reminders that these years are numbered. I know we can all use reminders to live out of priorities and with intentionality. But those of us parenting teenagers are acutely aware of the time ticking and the sands passing through the hour glass.
Every time I see one of those well-intentioned “You only get eighteen summers with your children” reminders, I battle feelings of fear, regret, and comparison. Maybe it is just me, but they make me feel rushed and frantic rather than present and trusting. Rather than press me into prayerful consideration of my children’s development, they make me want to book vacations we cannot afford. Rather than remind me of the God who sovereignly steers our family, they make me want to put my children at the center in an idolatrous place.
Eighteen years vs. Eternity
Believe me, I want my children to leave my home with a heart full of fond memories, a headful of unshakeable truths about God and themselves, and a handful of practical tools for engaging the world around them. I want them to have visited National Parks and played hours of card games semi-peaceably around our table. I want them to have years of soul-muscle-memory of being delighted in and enjoyed by their parents and siblings.
I fully agree that parenting our children under our roofs is a gift to be treasured; however, the goal of parenting is to come alongside God in growing them into peers with whom we will spend eternity. God has a plan for each of my children with days already recorded in his book (Psalm 139: 16; 2 Samuel 23: 5). They include the years spent under my roof, but, prayerfully, they far exceed those years.
They include idyllic days at the beach with ice cream cones, but they also include hardship and boredom and responsibility. They include happy memories in my home, but they also include laughter, tears and transitions outside of my presence. They include intentional parenting victories, but they also include parenting mistakes.
I fear that we are placing a crushing weight on parents with our focus on these eighteen years at home. Eighteen years cannot carry the freight that God intends for faithful sons and daughters — that takes a lifetime of days pre-determined and perfectly-purposed by an all-wise God who stands outside of the constrictions and limitations of time.
Parents play a wildly significant part in coming alongside God and enfleshing him in those early developmental years; however, neither parents nor children are the at center of this parenting gig: God is. And he is neither worried not hurried about our teenage children (or their parents who stare down the reality of empty nests).
Busy, Not Rushed
The writer Wendell Barry noted that farmers are always busy but never rushed. There are always scores of things that need to be done on a farm, but farmers never rush. There will be more work to be done tomorrow. And today’s work will require focus and faithfulness.
One line from the famous historic hymn “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” has been comforting my soul as we head into teenage summers: “unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might.”
Our God doesn’t rest, and our God doesn’t rush. He works out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness (Isaiah 25: 1). His sovereignty reigns over summers and continues well beyond our allotted time sharing an address with our children.
Within the boundary lines he has appointed for us, he has pleasant plans for us and promises to be present with us (Psalm 16: 5-6). This means that no matter our budget or number of vacation days, God has good for us and them. He has chances for us to develop in character and deepen in love. He has joyful moments when our hearts are stirred with good themes as well as moments when we cry out to God in distress and dependence (Psalm 45: 1-2; Psalm 61: 1-2).
May your summer be more filled with his presence and peace than popsicles!