Sometimes it hits me more than others. I guess this week, tonight in particular, is one of those times. I really miss my older children. Maybe it's partly because I got to see my Beanie on Monday and Tuesday, and I had a better chance to visit with her than I have in a long while. That seems crazy, I know; I should be grateful for the opportunity, but it makes the absence that much harder after the fact. I got to visit with Zach on the phone for a while last night, too. He's great about staying in touch with us, by phone and by e-mail, and I love our conversations. It's rare for a young man to be so good at communicating. Again, the nice phone call should make me feel better, and in a way it does, but it also brings to the fore how far apart we are, and I remember how long it'll be before we see Zach and Bekah, and how few and far apart our visits are ever likely to be. Nobody's fault, but such is life.
Now this weekend Nicholai is off to a youth retreat. I'm very pleased for him to go, and grateful for the chance that was given to him. I have to confess that I'm a little jealous, despite the fact that I got to have such a great "retreat" with many of my pastor buddies earlier this week. Comradery is a bit like potato chips or pistachio nuts, I guess: a little taste of it, and you're hungry for more. When will I ever learn simply to be content with my life and my lot? It's not as though I'm ever left all by myself. I'm surrounded by people who either love me or need me, or both. But I feel the holes in my days and nights, the emptiness that's left behind when any of my children are gone away. I miss DoRena and Zachary, and I miss Nicholai, too, these days that he is gone. My older children are certainly among my nearest and dearest friends, but how rarely do I get to be with them!
Wilhelm Löhe has somewhere quipped, "Who knows if I would have remained a Christian, if I had not become a pastor?" I have a sense of what he meant. My pastoral vocation is what keeps me focused on the Gospel, immersed in the means of grace, and consistent in prayer. In a similar fashion, my vocations, not only as a pastor but as a husband and father, keep me connected to other people in a way that I would otherwise neglect or sabotage. As important as friendship is to me, I'm really not very good at it. The mutual and voluntary bonds that define and constitute friendship are difficult for me to nurture and maintain with the right sort of finesse. It seems that I am always either trying too hard or not doing nearly enough. I flounder and get flustered. I talk too much as it is, and it's usually concerning things of little or no interest to anyone else. Sooner or later, it seems inevitable, I bore people to death or drive them away. Yet, there are these ties and relationships, rooted in my vocations, which bind me to some of my neighbors in a way that I can manage, with a bond that is not readily broken.
I know how to care for people and relate to them as a pastor. I'm always working to get better at it, to be more faithful in that calling, but it's solid and objective, and I basically know what to do with that. I know, too, what it means to be a husband and a father, even if I'm daily falling short in living up to those things. As often as I miss the mark, I know where to aim, and so I try, try again. There's a sure foundation to stand upon, and a recognizable structure to live within. So, too, my parishioners and my family know what to expect from me, what to ask me for, and what they are given to be hearing and receiving from me. Here there is definition and guidance and a steady relationship, all from the Lord, according to His Word. We have a name for these things, and words to describe them, and a frame of reference.
If it weren't for that, I fear that I would become a recluse, a hermit, or worse. Not because I dislike people! Quite the opposite is true. But because I don't know what I'm doing outside of my vocations and stations in life. I'm awkward and shy, and I say things that make no sense or simply don't matter to anyone else; or I don't say anything at all, but keep to myself and "hide" in a corner somewhere. Apart from my God-given offices in life, I'm still the teenager sitting on the sidelines at every high school dance, too frightened to ask any of the girls, and drowned out by the noise of the music and the rowdiness of the crowd.
I suppose that's why I selfishly long for the company of my older children, even though I know they are rightly making adult lives for themselves with their spouses. I would not want to hold them back or tie them down. It would be for my benefit, not theirs, to keep them close at hand. Besides, I have their younger siblings to love and care for, who need my full attention and affection. That's where I'm setting my sights these days, along with my pastoral practice. I recognize that I still have a long way to go in being the father that I am called to be. It's not a burden, but a blessed privilege, yet it does require patient perseverance. And then it requires the grace to let them go. Thank God, His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness, in the demonstration of His mercy. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will He not also, with Him, freely give us all good things? I really miss my older children, but I shall miss them in full view of the Cross of Christ, in the glorious hope of the Resurrection and the life everlasting.