My son, Daniel, and his new bride, Julie, chose to kneel for a time of prayer after lighting the unity candle when their vows had been made and rings exchanged. All the groomsmen and bridesmaids gathered around them while Julie's sister sang "How Deep the Father's Love for Us." My son-in-law, RJ, and Julie's sister, Evie, prayed quietly for them and then Daniel and Julie prayed silently. When the song was finished, the groomsmen and bridesmaids made their way back to their assigned places. I was standing behind the kneeling bench with Daniel and Julie facing me. It was time for them to stand up and move back to the front of the platform. I was to pray for them and then pronounce them man and wife. Nobody else in the church could see what I saw at that moment. Before he stood up from the kneeling bench, Daniel looked up at me with tears in his eyes. And I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.
A week earlier, Margaret and I drove away from Covenant College in Chattanooga after dropping off our youngest son, William, for his first year of college. As we talked and prayed together over the next couple of days, we tried to identify the emotions we were feeling. There was something like grief: an era of our lives had come to an end. Will is the fourth child we've taken to college, so you'd think we'd be used to this by now. But there was always at least one at home, and we have loved being with our children. The feeling of grief was for something that has been lost, something we couldn't hold on to--that time of life with our children under our roof.
At the same time, there were feelings of joy. We were so happy for Will as we watched his excitement as he moved into his dorm. By the time we left on Saturday, Will was out playing ultimate Frisbee on the college lawn with a group of new friends. Parent orientation gave us confidence that he would be well taken care of and would get the help he would need to adjust to college life. I am proud of Will and glad he is at Covenant College. He is beginning a new phase of life and he will adjust to the changes and challenges as part of becoming an independent adult.
But the end of an era of our lives came rather abruptly! Our daughter, Carolyn, was born about two years after we were married, so we've had children in our house at various stages of development for about twenty-seven years. Letting go of the last one feels like summer has ended and autumn has arrived: the season for feeling nostalgic about the passing of time. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecc. 3:1). True, but we long for permanence. We want to hold on to seasons of life. We long for eternity but experience life as a vapor that fades too quickly.
When Daniel looked at me with tears in his eyes, I felt the vapor, but it didn't feel sad. It wasn't the time or place to ask him what he was feeling. My guess is that his tears revealed happiness, and I was happy for him! I remembered my wedding day and the happiness I felt. The years of marriage and parenting flashed before me with a strong feeling of amazement and wonder. God has been so good to me! Far beyond anything I could have asked or imagined, God has given me the privilege of being a husband and a father. He has loved me and loved my children. He has allowed me to share in the stories he is writing in their lives. They are each "his workmanship." I didn't create them. I didn't endow them with gifts or abilities. I didn't shape their temperaments or personalities. I didn't give them hearts to love and pursue God. I have been a steward, caring for what has belonged to God all along. It has been my privilege to encourage them, train them, pray for them and with them, love them, and enjoy them. All of this flows from God's abundant goodness and grace. I felt thankful, but more than that, I felt a sense of adoration before God. How good of God to let me enjoy that special moment as my son looked into my eyes. How kind of God to let me experience the joy of being a dad!
Margaret and I experienced two "partings" in a week's time. We left one son at college and watched the other "leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife..." (Gen. 2:24). Big changes for us! But these are also great reminders that we are not in control of our times. Our lives are in God's hands and we are part of the story He is writing. To see Him in all this and to acknowledge His goodness puts everything in perspective.