Today has felt like a punch in the gut and a long, slow-motion fall from a high cliff. Actually, it began to hit me yesterday afternoon, but today I have wondered whether I would become physically ill. It is all the more clear to me, as I have begun to realize about myself over this past year, that I have tended to make false gods out of my children. I know that's gotten worse as I've gotten older, because I used to be more inclined to idolize stuff. Whatever it is that, when you have it, you are happy and content, and when it is threatened or taken away, you despair, that is your god. Money and possessions still tempt me, but less so than they used to. It is in my family that I find my greatest joy and satisfaction, and over my children that I am most anxious and afraid. Jesus says, "Do not worry," but I worry about my children all the time. I've experienced that kind of unbelieving anxiety whenever we've been expecting another child, desperately afraid of a miscarriage. And my idolatrous heart has come close to breaking as I have had to say goodbye to my oldest daughter and son, even knowing that they are growing up and moving on with their lives as they should. I rejoice with them and for them, I really do, but I am also selfish and afraid of losing them.
I know better than to let myself go headlong down that path of despair. More important, I trust that the Lord will sustain me by His Word and Spirit, unto repentance and faith, and that He will continue to provide for me and my family, to guard us and keep us in His care, both body and soul, unto the life everlasting. But for the moment I am feeling very sad, and so I must wrestle with this wretched old Adam in me, and war against this idolatry that rages in my mortal flesh.
I said goodbye to my son Zachary (again) this morning. We went through this whole painful process of separation and transition several months ago, already, when he moved to Nebraska for the summer. That was hard, and I spent several weeks, before and after, dealing with it then. In the back of my mind, though, I relished the opportunity I would have to see him and spend time with him in July, and I looked forward to having him home in South Bend for a week before he would head off to school. Now those times have come and gone. We had a wonderful weekend, celebrating his graduation, surrounded on all sides by loving family and dear friends. In the midst of all that euphoria, I honestly didn't even let myself think about the ending of this one last big "hoorah!" before everything would change. As of last night, I couldn't escape it, and then it was this morning, and just like that my son was out the door and riding away from me.
The feelings that have filled my heart and consumed me throughout this day have threatened at times to undo me altogether. I think it is a necessary process of repentance. Because it makes me realize that I have not only idolized my son (and my other children), but have made a false god of myself. I have wanted to be Zachary's true and only father, and have allowed myself to believe that I am; that I gave him life and preserved it; that I fed and clothed and cared for him, protected him from all harm and danger; that I daily and richly provided him with all that he has needed. I know better, yes, but my heart has been reluctant to bow before the one true God and Father. It is almost always the case that God's greatest gifts and blessings are also the most enticing temptations. Children are a heritage from the Lord, and parents are set next to God Himself in honor and authority; yet, we dare not make gods out of children or parents.
My heart is rent today, if not my garments, because I am forced to acknowledge and confess that my son's life is in the care and keeping of His true Father in heaven. Of course, that is good news, but it strikes a heavy blow to my prideful self. Now I must relearn, like a little child, that we live by grace alone through faith alone, by the mercies of God in Christ, and that everything depends upon His forgiveness of sins; that there is no merit or worthiness in me to do this, nor even to deserve it.
Along with that, I am called to repentance by regrets. Eighteen years have come and gone, and I am suddenly reminded of all the time I let slip by, when I was making false gods and idols out of stuff, or indulging my self-righteousness in vain pursuits of my own design. I think of times when I neglected my son, or lost my temper with him, or made promises to him I didn't keep. O bitter remorse, how can it be that I so failed to recognize the fleeting moments I was given to share with him? How is it that I could, at once, both idolize my son and yet be so distracted and diverted from devoting my time and attention to him? And not only him, but each and all of my children. In my sinful heart, I have presumed to be their god, and have made of them my gods, and still I have failed them in more ways than I can possibly count or comprehend.
I am becoming convinced that such idolatry is at least a major factor in the pain and sorrow of separation and saying goodbye. It is dreadful, this anguish, but this too is from the Lord and for my own good. It is a call to repentance, to be turned away from my false belief to the true and living God. Not to be deprived of the children God has given me, but to live with them in the righteousness of Christ, which is by grace through faith in Him. It is with fear, love and trust in Him that I am able to live in the freedom of the Gospel, and thus enabled to love and serve my wife and children as a godly husband and father. The Lord chastens in order to heal. He breaks the sinner, each and every one of us, in order to recreate us in the image of the New Man, Jesus Christ. He kills in order to make us alive. His Law thunders, but His Gospel forgives. And for Jesus' sake, He daily and richly provides us with every good thing.
Zachary is still my son, and I am still his earthly father. He is not lost and gone forever; he's just a lot further away from me than he's been for the past eighteen years. He's becoming an adult; really, he's already well on his way. I know the hurt and emptiness of goodbye will ease with time, just as it has gradually gotten easier for me to accept that my dear daughter DoRena is not my little baby girl anymore but a grown woman. As I am freed from my idolatry by the Word and Spirit of God in Christ, by His preaching of the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith, I am set free to rejoice in this exciting new stage in my relationship with my two oldest children. Where I am taught to recognize my faults and failings in the past, I am catechized to love and serve my younger children more faithfully in the present and the future. All of this in the confidence that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Not my good works, nor my children's abilities and accomplishments, but the love of God in Christ is our sure and certain hope, both now and forever. And He is not far from any one of us. In Him we live and move and have our being. Indeed, in the holy Body and precious Blood of Christ, we are all knit together as one family of God, whether in heaven or on earth, whether in Indiana or Texas.