When our first child left for college, my mother, who was not sentimental in the least, told me to go clean up his room. She suggested that I would get so mad at him I’d stop missing him.
In some measure she was correct. I did get good and mad at the state of his room (and at the fact that I had ever allowed such sloth in my home). It did not compute, however, that a more orderly home was equal compensation for a significant absence. There is a finality to letting your child fly out of your nest to a life that is the beginning of something permanent.
Our Biblical sister, Hannah, comes to mind. 1 Samuel tells us that God had closed Hannah’s womb. She longed for a son, so Hannah decided to strike a deal with God: And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1: 11). Hannah then received a blessing from the priest Eli and indeed she was given Samuel as her first born.
As the story of Hannah and Samuel continues, we know that Hannah was true to her word, and in great faithfulness she handed Samuel over to Eli and the keeping of the Temple while he was but a young boy. What’s more, she entrusted her beloved son to a man who had “sons who were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.” (1 Samuel 2:12) After that Hannah saw Samuel once a year when she and her husband traveled to the Temple to offer sacrifices and seek atonement before the house of the Lord. Each year she made and brought Samuel a new robe. The Bible does not dwell on Hannah’s profound loss upon giving up Samuel, but the facts are sufficient to give us a feeling for the depth of Hannah’s personal sacrifice.
There is one more observation about the faith of Hannah. She determined that she could be true to her vow and keep Samuel with her until he was weaned from her milk. In those days weaning was a three to five year process at least. Hannah nurtured her baby son in conjunction with her vow to give Samuel over completely to the Lord. Sending a child to college feels like an act of letting go (which it is), but it is preceded by years of nurturing and weaning.
This is our purpose as parents. I do not mean until our children are weaned in the literal sense, but in the emotional, spiritual, and physical process of maturation, our children slowly are weaned from us, or so they should be. There comes a point when our responsibilities as daily caregivers are done. We remain, obviously, the parents, but our child moves on to new shelter and a different daily nurture. It doesn’t help that usually the child is ecstatic when he or she is finally weaned from the parents, when in turn the parents are stunned and horrified that those days are over. As my unsentimental mother also said, “parenting is not for the faint of heart!”
So why is this huge transition of sending a child off to college (or military service, or full time employment) not to be feared? For the Christian parent it is ok because we live in the assurance that our children belong to God. We have done the work of nurture and weaning so that our child may go forth “in the Lord.” We are launching God’s creature so that he or she may love and serve Him in their own lives and their own dwellings. Are we guaranteed that our children will do just that? No! We are practicing faithfulness, living with confidence in God’s providence, which is the perfect antidote to fear.
This is true if it is the first time or the sixth time you are sending a child off to college. Letting them go is nothing less than an act of faithfulness. As we make up their beds in a tiny freshman dorm and reverently organize their stuff within the new storage bins, we are saying “yes” to God, the perfect and supreme parent of our children. Just like Hannah, we are entrusting them to the Lord, even knowing that folk who “do not know the Lord” are perhaps under the same roof.
And there is more good news! Your college-aged kid will come home. You will go and see your child at college. Thanks to modern technology, you can speak to your child frequently. You can text and send pictures and links. You can smile the first time you are told by your child to relax and stop helicoptering. All of this is very comforting. It makes the reality of such a transition manageable and even, in time, enjoyable.
Finally, your child will now proceed to make some necessary mistakes, errors in judgement, and downright sinful choices – life events that cannot happen while under your roof. God will use this. College and other “first tastes” of independence from home are simply opportunities for God to work in the lives of our kids. In our faithfulness, we let God work out His plan and His purpose for our child who is gone from the nest.
My heart is full for every parent about to see a child leave the nest. In my experience, it is a singular moment. It is a time to lean heavily on God and let the grief happen. I do recommend when a wave hits, you consider cleaning up your fledgling’s room.