03 October 2008

I Really Miss My Older Children

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.


Rev. James Leistico said...

from the other end of the children's ages, (and in regards to being a wall-flower too), I have to say "ditto." My oldest just started Kindegarten this year. Friday's are so quiet around the parsonage for me with just her two little brothers. Now that he walks, our little guy in my profile picture keeps things a little more active. But the energy (and noise) level are nothing like when Emma's around.

Your last paragraph reminded me of a conversation I had with parents who had to bury their middle age son - and this only months before their grandchild was to graduate from High School. As Christians, we know those who go ahead of us have greater joys than we now experience, yet we feel they are missing out on earthly joys because WE are missing out on sharing the joys (and sorrows too) in this earthly life. The parents knew the joys of seeing their son graduate, and when their grandchild graduated they were looking forward to their son having that parental joy and sharing it with them - immediately, without means. In sharing joy, we want to walk by sight, but after death God calls us to walk by faith in sharing joy, to share it mediately, by means of His Word of the Resurrection.
In a much lesser, though similar way, your post sounds like you want to walk not mediately (through their phone conversations, short visits, etc), but by sight in sharing your children's daily lives. (I know I will be/am the same way. I had the hardest time watching "Father of the Bride" - and that was even before God brought my Rib to me)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Brother Leistico, and especially for your reiteration of the truth of the Gospel.

As I have said, sometimes it hits me harder than others. I'm not on the verge of despair, but there are times when I feel the sadness of separation more acutely. Then I am called to repentance for my selfishness, and pointed again to faith and life in Christ Jesus.

I still remember when Zachary first moved out of the house, when he went to work for his Uncle Rob out in Nebraska. When I would venture downstairs to where his bedroom had been, it would feel as though he had departed this life altogether. I knew better, of course, but I couldn't simply talk myself out of the feelings that washed over me, time and time again. There's a similar sense of death when a loved one undergoes surgery. These are among the reasons that I have become more aware of the hope and promise of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul writes eloquently of that in this Sunday's Epistle, and you have helpfully reminded me of that, again, in your kind words.

Rev. James Leistico said...

thanks for pointing me back to this Sunday's Epistle. I've been busy with doctors this week (most of Monday, Thursday and culminating in a colonoscopy yesterday morning which revealed inflamed bowel disease), so I haven't had time to devote to sermon prep until today. The Resurrection is definitely a great reminder of why not to despair and give up in the midst of any and all discouragements and disappointments.
Speaking of such, the OT text is the basis of a petition in one of Johann Gerhard's prayers that has lodged in my heart as a favorite - "Prayer for the Preservation of the Word and the Increase of the Church" (Meditations on Divine Mercy, p. 133):
"...Erect in this garden, Your church, the high watchtower of Your paternal providence so You may keep it safe from all devastation (Isaiah 5:2). If it seems good to You to squeeze this vine's clusters of grapes in the winepress of the cross for a time and to subject them to affliction, may they first become ripe by the fervor of Your grace so they may produce the sweetest fruit of faith and patience." [followed by a very nice and smooth transition to final deliverance from evil.]

Susan said...

>I should be grateful for the opportunity, but it makes the absence that much harder after the fact.

YES! It's almost like I can live "without" more easily than I can live with the reminders that I have lost something. It's almost like, "just get used to the fact that you don't have it anymore, and go from there" rather than feeling and grieving the loss.

Same thing for seeing friends. As must as I love them and rejoice in seeing them, it always hurts to come back to real life, regular life, mundane life. I see the effects in the kids too; after a playday with the homeschool group or a visit with cousins, there's always an unsettledness when we get home, an irritation with the siblings that far exceeds normal.

>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.

If it makes you feel any better, I think many of us feel like this. The immediate needs of life so often get in the way of being able to devote time to our friends as we desire to do. And then we're torn. I keep trying to convince myself that we focus on what is in front of us, do what we are to do, and when it's time to go socialize in South Bend or Fort Wayne, to just revel in it and soak it up and enjoy it for all it's worth, without worrying about whether I'm giving enough to my friends during the rest of life when I'm folding underwear and teaching math.

After Steve died, Peter said to me so often, "If you hadn't known and loved him, you wouldn't be grieving the loss of him. And you certainly wouldn't have wanted that just to spare you the hurt now." And so often, I would think, "Yes, I would! This hurts so much, I would've preferred to have never known the joys and the love that I lost." I don't know whether I really thought that, or it was just the sorrow and the rebellion. But either way, I struggled with it. But finally, he said something in Bible class on Thursday that finally (five years later!!!!) started to make sense. It is "being in the image of God" that causes us to love, even when we know that we will lose our loved one, or that there will be separation for the sake of the beloved's good. Both the pain and the joys teach us about God's heart of love. And as much as someone might want to be spared the pain, there is no true joy, no true satisfaction, when we guard ourselves from that pain; the pouring out of ourselves in love for the other (even at risk of losing them in the fullness we enjoyed in years past) is what actually fulfills us, even though it hurts.

Back in the days when I listened to CCM, there was a song about friendship that I still appreciate. Michael W Smith sang, "Oh, a friend's a friend forever if they Lord's the lord of them. And a friend will not say never, for the welcome will not end. Though it's hard to let you go, in the Father's hand we know that a lifetime's not too long to live as friends."

Ah, shoot, Rick, I'm rambling on and on, and writing more for myself than for you. I guess there is no comfort for you with regard to Bean and Zack, other than enjoying the times you have, and knowing that you have eternity together in Jesus' presence. But if you're like me, that isn't enough to buoy the spirits when you've just enjoyed being with your kids or your dear friends.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I think Nick is having a great time at our retreat. Everyone had a great time with our signature "folk dancing" this afternoon at the park. The weather has been beautiful. We're just about to go to vespers and then it's time for our semi-formal banquet at Schuler's with Pr. Tim Pauls' dinner address, followed by a bluegrass concert with Eric and Polly Rapp and then ending the evening at the Order of Confessional Service with individual absolution. What a day! :-)

OFHP said...

I know Nick and the others had a good time this weekend,, Marshall is always a great time and holds a
very special place at least in my heart...Through Marshall God gave us you and Emmaus and that's something we don't take for granted
but rejoice in our blessings -- Stop worrying about who your not or what you have't done or how you can to better--Satan loves to see us get down about ourselves and life-- but thanks be to God He gives us the strength to do our vocations.........God has given you a tremendous gift of teaching and preaching but also of comparssion and concern for others.. I wouldn't want you or your family any other way!!!!!!

Monkey Laughs said...

Hey Dad,
I miss you too!
I'm sorry that we are so far apart, but at the same time it is good, in a way, to know that I am missed.

"I shall miss them in full view of the Cross of Christ, in the glorious hope of the Resurrection and the life everlasting."

I am glad to know that you continue to turn to our Saviour, as you have always admonished me to. This is certainly one of the most important themes that defines your blog and your life! When you are missing your loved ones, remember the wonderful mystery of our eternal union at His table! It has always helped me :-).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

You certainly are missed, Zachary. Not a day goes by when I don't think of you. And there's always a part of me that wishes you were here; even though I am proud of where you are and what you are doing with your life. You and Rebekah are always in my prayers.

Thanks, as always, for your encouraging words. There's nothing for which I am more grateful than your faith and confidence in Christ, and the way you confess Him to your family and friends. I'm very proud to know you, not only as my son but as my friend.