When I worked with Sam Buice, he talked often of parenthood being the continual process of “letting go.” He would remind baptismal families that when the parent hands the child over to the priest for baptism, it is the first lesson of parental stewardship: giving back to God what already belongs to God. Part of baptizing infants is the spiritual exercise of “letting go.” Sam spoke of this in the midst of raising four teenage girls. I knew the time would come for me to practice this lesson, just not so soon. These experiences come quicker than we can ever prepare.
Yesterday, I dropped off my oldest son, 8-years-old, at Camp Mikell for his first week away from us.
When I asked him if he wanted to go, he said, “Nah, I’m OK.” But when I told him that his friends from SNICK were going, he quickly recanted, “Oh! Yeah, sure, I want to go!” He’s been to Camp Mikell a few times before. Twice when I was a dean at Junior Camp, and another time when he and I went to Mini-Camp together. He knows the lay of the land, he has friends around him, and a fantastic group of summer staff and counselors who are trained to care for his every need. He’ll be in Christian community, the best experience he can have, so you would think I would be rejoicing.
Instead, as I hugged him in his cabin yesterday, I could tell I was treading on the line of his embarrassment. He was ready for me to go. I could have stayed around and lingered. I wanted to. I could have played a game of cards or 4-Square with him before I left. But I chose to hurry up and get out of there before I either made the decision to make my own bed next to his or to just melt into a puddle of tears.
I know all of this is part of the process. And this is just the first of many, many times when I will look at him and wonder how he got to be where he is. I will have innumerable instances where I will hold both pride and sorrow in my heart, wondering if I have done everything in my power to equip him with the tools he needs to exist on his own. I know cognitively that if I hold on too tightly, I am robbing him of being the person God created him to be. Yet, there’s an excitement there along with the lip-biting. What will he experience? How will he change? What will God do with him?
Each time I let go, I’ll be reminded that I’m doing exactly what Molly and I did when we had him baptized…we’re giving him back to God.