My son Josh will be waking up in Australia for the first time in four and a half years.
That is now two of my children living more than thirteen thousand kilometres away.
That reality certainly has had me reflecting.
I am realizing that there are two distinct phases of being a parent.
In the first phase you are completely responsible for the teaching, care and nurture of your child.
In the second phase your only responsibility is as a cheer squad, willing them to win the race of life that lies ahead of them. The problem is that there isn’t really a line you cross to say you have moved from one phase to another… its a day by day transition that happens so gradually that you don’t really notice.
As Josh waved goodbye and walked into airport security I remembered my own experience of waving goodbye to my family as I stepped onto a coach that would take me to the Australian outback town of Broken Hill.
Getting on the coach didn’t automatically mean I had entered the second phase of my relationship with my parents, and it certainly didn’t mean I was suddenly mature, however for the first time the steering wheel of my life’s adventure was firmly in my hands.
That steering wheel is actually a scary thing. The steering wheel represents responsibility, and responsibility means there is no-one else to blame.
Josh will spend the weekend recovering from jet-lag and connecting with family, but on Monday he begins a new phase of life. He stands at a crossroads that leads in infinite different directions, and the decisions he makes every day will shape the rest of his life. For the first time those decisions are truly his to make, and the consequences of those decisions are his to bear.
As I reflect on some of the choices I made in the first five years of leaving home I realize that my parents must have been watching with high levels of anxiety, yet they managed to stay on the sidelines cheering me on rather than reaching for the steering wheel.
I know that my kids will make decisions that I don’t think are in their best interests, and yet I now have to get used to the idea that, at least for two of them, my job is to be a cheer squad, leaving responsibility in their hands and not taking it away.
Since becoming a Pastor, the fourth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians has been my point of orientation for my task in the church. In particular the central idea of the chapter is that when the church is functioning as it should, people are becoming mature. Paul defines maturity by talking about it’s opposite. He says:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14)
A mature person is someone who is not blown around by the ups and downs of life. As a parent it is very tempting to want to save my kids from experiencing those ups and downs, but to the extent I do that I am actually robbing them of the opportunity to grow up.
Maddi, Josh, Daniel and Sophie are all going to face things that I wish they didn’t have to face. Relationships and life circumstances will cause them pain, sometimes as a result of their choices, and sometimes not. My job as a parent though, is not to save them from the pain but to cheer them on, love them, pray for them and remind them that they don’t have to be tossed around, they can make choices.
One of my favourite verses is Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
It is an important verse for me to remember as a parent, because Josh is God’s handiwork and not mine. There is also an adventure that is uniquely planned in advance for him by God, and not by me.
My biggest prayer for my kids is that each one of them find that adventure and live the whole and full lives that they were created to live.
I know now that my role in those lives is changing, and that’s not easy but it is ok.