Letting Kids Go with Grace

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The president of the university where I worked as a campus minister once told me about a call he received from an irate parent:

“There are no Coco-Puffs in your cafeteria,” she said.

“No, ma’am, but there are six other kinds of cereal for students to choose from,” the president replied.

“I don’t care,” came the retort. “My son has had Coco-Puffs every morning for sixteen years, and he can’t do without them. Fix it.”

Some parents have a tough time letting go. When a son or daughter leaves for college or university, parents no longer have control over their daily lives. This loss can cause deep anxiety, especially in Christian parents whose children choose an institution that happens to be secular in its allegiances.

I empathize with these parents, whose overwhelming love for the creature they have raised from infancy knows no bounds. But this love, if unchecked by wisdom, can express itself in manipulative and twisted ways. The desire to maintain or extend parental control into the college years can backfire. If a student is already questioning parental authority, intensifying it often drives students into deeper revolt.

There are words of comfort for parents who worry about their college-age child’s physical and spiritual well-being. The fact is that God’s Spirit is always whispering in our children’s lives, even if we cannot discern it on the outside. C. S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity that Christ

works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think is our “religious life.” He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometime through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian. When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going—provided he does it for honesty’s sake and not just to annoy his parents—the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him then than it ever was before.

In other words, even if God’s covenant promises are all we have to hold on to, we have reason for a deep-rooted hope.

A Parting Blessing

Students, like many biblical figures, leave their parents’ household to travel to an uncertain country. As in ancient times, the healthiest way to transition with them is to offer your support, bless them on their way, and pray continually for them.

This parting blessing from parents is always a “goodbye,” which is a contraction of “God be with you.” No matter what country they may sojourn in, we pray that God will go before them and behind them and guard them on their right and on their left. It may be difficult to trust the university your child has chosen, and it can be tough to trust your child herself, but in the end you must commend her to God.

Let’s close this article with a prayer I found in a book by Leslie and Edith Brandt called Growing Together: Prayers for Married People (Augsburg, 1975). Some of the poetry may lack the assurances of covenantal theology, but it names our ultimate fears for us in a helpful way. This poem is titled “Concern for Our Children.”

We are worried about our children, Lord.
They seem at times to be rebellious and
indifferent to you and your purposes.

We can’t help but feel that we are to blame
when they take off on their precarious journeys
and flirt with those demons of darkness
that are capable of destroying their souls.

We know, O God, that our love for them
cannot coerce them into goodness
any more than your divine and eternal love
can compel us to follow you. . . .

Help us, O God,
to love them as you love us,
patiently and perpetually,
whatever their decisions and actions.

Amen.

About the Author

Peter Schuurman, who is laboring toward a Ph.D. in religious studies, passed his comprehensive exam. He’s on the preaching team of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Guelph, Ontario. His youngest child, Grace, was born last Reformation Day.
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