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FIRST-PERSON: The ‘ugly cry’ of college goodbyes

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) – My daughter just left for college, and I’ve mysteriously developed “ugly cry” syndrome. A friend tells me the correlation is not coincidental.

I should have seen it coming. Not too long ago I heard a pastor tell a young couple with a newborn to make the most of every opportunity because “the days are long, but the years are short.” I’ve learned over the past week the magnitude of that colossal understatement.

My wife and I just settled our only child at a university in Los Angeles. As she blended into the sea of people in her orientation group, all I could think about was walking her to the corner near our house wearing her little rubber boots to splash in puddles when she was 2. I’m not certain how fast light speed is but I’m pretty sure the past 18 years qualifies.

Seeing her turn and walk toward her future left me an emotional mess. I’m bordering on a meltdown just writing this. I felt the heavy weight of impending loss pressing on my soul the week leading up to our journey from Nashville to L.A. I couldn’t shake it. “Surely,” I thought, “Surely Scripture can offer a word of comfort.” The Lord must have led me to Ecclesiastes because that is certainly not the book I’d normally choose when seeking a spiritual lift.

Ecclesiastes didn’t change the reality of our daughter being 2,000 miles away, but it offered biblical truth that’s steered my soul toward stable ground and made me think of other biblical truths that have strengthened me for the journey. Here are my five takeaways. Hopefully they might help you if you’re paddling a similar boat at this stage of life.

  1. The seasons change. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” As surely as summer drifts into fall, it was inevitable that our child would drift from our home and into a new season of life. That’s the way God designed it. Ecclesiastes 7:13 affirms it. “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what he has made crooked?” These two verses stabilized my shaky spirit. Since I can’t change the changing seasons, I will embrace them.
  2. I must trust God’s sovereignty and not my parenting. I’m discovering it doesn’t matter how much I think I’ve invested in my child; I still feel there is more I should have done. God reminded me her future does not depend on me, it depends on Him. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). God knew our child in eternity past, created her, and has a plan and a purpose for her present and future apart from her mom and me.
  3. Wisdom is refined by the weight of individual choice. Jeremiah 6:16 was the dedication verse we chose for our daughter when she was a baby: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” She’s heard this verse her entire life. Wisdom comes from seeking God and following His direction. God promises there is a good ending to walking in His good way, but our daughter must walk that path herself (with our distant cheers of support and parental wisdom when sought).
  4. I need to see her for who she is becoming and not for who she was when she left home. People change as well as seasons. If I don’t expect to see a more spiritually, mentally and emotionally matured person as the months pass, I’ve significantly underestimated my daughter and God working in her “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
  5. I need to continually celebrate God’s grace. The Bible reminds us to “remember the Lord our God” and all His favorable actions extended to His people. I have been thinking about so many specific instances of God’s grace over nearly 19 years with our daughter. Past grace gives me confidence that God’s grace will certainly continue into the future.

Seeing my child turn and walk toward her future without her mom and me is probably the most difficult experience I’ve had as a parent. But seeing my child turn and walk toward the future God has prepared for her is also one of my proudest moments as her daddy.

    About the Author

  • Chris Turner/Tennessee Baptist and Reflector

    Chris Turner is director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in the Baptist and Reflector (www.baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

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