by John VandenOever
It was 1980-something and I and my fellow graduates stood awkwardly on the church platform. Each one of us stood beside a proud father as he grasped for something to say about his child. Debbie, tall, with a gift for pulling pranks, blushed red as her father began, “Debbie, was always a big girl…”
My father didn’t embarrass me, but he did leave me befuddled. “I didn’t really know what I was doing,” he said to the church. What? I thought. Where is this coming from? I was 18, graduating high school, and he was 38, on his third career, pastoring his second church. “I had to grow up,” Dad continued, “and so, John and I grew up together.”
He spoke as if he were an adolescent, not my Dad, who knew pretty much everything. I tried to disagree with him, but he had his mind set on confessing that he was still a work in progress.
Today I’m 14 years older than that version of my Dad, with four high school graduations in the rearview mirror and our fifth and last child’s pomp and circumstance just over the horizon. And I’ve never felt his words were truer. I’ve had to grow up with my kids, and I’m still a work in progress.
I could easily lament my regrets and warn you to avoid them. I’d say: Keep your career in its proper place. Set your concerns about money in God’s daily care. And Every day as you sit, walk, rest, and rise together show your children that Christ is lovely, real, and very near. But I won’t burden you with my mistakes, or give you a program.
Though I’m still growing up, this I know: It’s not my grip on Christ that keeps me in His kingdom (John 6:37, Psalm 63:8). Neither is it my grasping hold for my children that makes them His. He was their Father before me, and He will be their Father beyond my life, to eternity. My role is temporary. At best, it gave them, in microcosm, a reference point for all of God’s loving care for them.
It’s been important to teach them, disciple them, encourage them, and I’ve sinned plenty with my meager investments. But perhaps even more, I’m a model of weakness. Like my father once did, I need to be willing to say so.
Though our hearts ache as we walk past their empty rooms, there is much to celebrate in this season of life. Somehow, we’ve become great friends. These young adults listen to their parents, and more importantly, we listen to them—a lot! We’re learning from them, and finding that they view the world a lot less selfishly than we did.
Right now, as it seems like even their smallest choices threaten to become decisions with life consequences—they feel overwhelmed. Like the world might crash in. So now, more than ever, this is the time to tell them how confused and broken I was then, and how confused and broken I still am. But for Christ, I’d have no hope. But more and more I’m getting glimpses beyond the veil, of how Christ has held my hand through it all.
Recently I was running errands in my car, praying. I was troubled about many things, mostly about how to put three kids through college this year. That’s when I stopped at the library and went inside, still in prayer. While browsing I found a bookmark on the stacks. It was that familiar verse from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (ESV). I thought, How nice! I hope somebody finds that, it could be really encouraging—BOOM! Wait, the bookmark is for me. God is answering my frantic prayer with this peaceful reminder. He is in control.
I had to grow up as my children grew. I’m still growing up. And you are, too.