Last weekend my oldest son, Ryan, left for college in Charleston, SC to join the ranks of the thousands of new students who are away from home for basically the first time in their lives. Simultaneously, I joined the vast ranks of parents adjusting to a new normal in their households that are suddenly “minus one.”
To prepare for this eventuality, I sought out those who’d “been there” for some much needed advice, hoping that reading almost all of the articles and blogs that crossed my desk would tell me everything that might be necessary for a mom who is about to deliver her child into the world of academic uncertainty. Not wanting to miss something important, I made notes from “4 Tips for Sending kids off to College with a Smile,” “10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Sent My Child to College” and “7 Words of Encouragement for Sending a Child to College.” But, before long, I found myself dizzied by all the conflicting advice from well-meaning moms and dads who were trying to help me attain the right balance between the practical and the sentimental.
I’ll admit that a few weeks ago, I was struggling with processing what it would be like to pack up everything Ryan owned and unload it in a new place. But as the big move approached, I took a break from the advice columns and listened instead to my own son talk about what he saw ahead of him.
As I heard the nervous excitement in his description of what he was anticipating and saw his eyes begin to sparkle at the new opportunities that lay ahead, it occurred to me to change my way of thinking. Instead of viewing his departure as loss, I started thinking about it as gain. This moment wasn’t a forfeiture. It was actually the culmination of everything that I’ve been working toward for two decades of child-rearing, homeschooling, and prayer. This isn’t just his moment to fly. It is mine too.
Though the circumstances of his move were still the same, that realignment in my thinking immediately altered everything. I was now able to pack up his stuff with anticipation, drive to another state with expectancy, unpack him with confidence… and as we drove off, to leave with a sense of bright hope, looking eagerly for what God will do in his life in the years ahead.
And the lesson I learned is one that all believers (those who have kids and those who don’t) need to remember. Through the presence of Christ within us, “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. 2:16) That means even in a swirl of emotion or the confusion of an uncertain future, we have the power and ability to choose how we think about the things that go on around us. That simple but profound truth is often the key to rising above a difficult situation or being swallowed by it. I think that’s essentially what Paul meant when he told the new Christians at Colosse to “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:2)
We often can’t see the complexities of the circumstances that attempt to overwhelm us, but even when these inner workings are shrouded from our understanding, we have to train our minds to dwell on spiritual reality and not be driven by raw emotion or temporal circumstances.
And while our feelings aren’t always wrong, they can easily mislead us when we allow them to become untethered from the truth of God’s Word. When we resolutely lash our thoughts to our faith, even the worst situations can’t shake us loose from our trust in God’s control and His ability to use even the most painful things to birth in us spiritual fruit that will nourish us and those around us.
And while I know that a mother’s heart will rightfully have those wispy moments while adjusting to setting one less plate at the table, those feelings won’t shake my trust in God “who began a good work in (Ryan & Me) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)