We are helping our last son pack for college. It feels like he’s been packing all year. He is home less and less. He’s taking care of his own appointments and managing his own money. We try to offer helpful reminders, though I’m sure we occasionally cross over into parental nagging. From a completely dependent infant he has grown into an individual with his own set of interests, opinions and relationships. This is what is supposed to happen.
Soon he will leave home to go to college in another town. So we are packing. The color of his bedspread and brand of computer we send with him are vastly less important than the intangibles that it has taken 18 years to pack into his life. As much as we’d like to cram those 18 years of truth into a suitcase and make sure he uses it when he reaches campus, he is the one deciding what to take with him.
The range of ideas he will encounter in the college classroom, the dorm or social gatherings may challenge his beliefs. It is counter-productive to be fearful and provincial about those ideas, or to make didactic pronouncements about the things he might say, think and do. It is reassuring right now to remember some of the ideas we held in college that didn’t stick, and to remember that the impact that Jesus has on a life is really sticky.
Just as we send his favorite cookies to give him a taste of home, we can remind him of what spiritual home tastes like. Over the next four years our influence will become like little care packages of communication. Five intangibles that I believe we need to send in these packages are faith, independence, acceptance, challenge and hope.
Faith. We pray for God’s presence in his life. We rejoice at expressions of faith in his life, whether they follow our pattern or not. We trust God to help him without involving us.
Independence. We are OK with not knowing everything. We will recognize that establishing life habits and patterns that work takes trial and error. We will offer help and advice rather than nagging.
Acceptance. We accept and love him no matter what. We listen. We love his friends, pray for them and welcome them into our home. We support his major and career choices.
Challenge. We challenge him to seek to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep God’s love is for him. (Ephesians 3:18) We encourage him to love and serve others, to live in community, to use his gifts and talents and to do his best. We will ask him about all of these things, not just the last one.
Hope. We remind him that grades and disappointments and complications do not have eternal consequence. We remember that about our own lives too. We celebrate the ongoing transformation all of us are experiencing in Christ.
The ball games, the concerts, the birthday parties, the camps, the contests, the chauffeuring, the driver’s license, the proms and, finally, the graduation are all behind us. Between and around these events we’ve unpacked Jesus through hundreds of conversations about everything. Our prayer is that along with our intangible care packages, our son will build a network of friends and fellowship that keep him unpacking Jesus.
Every parent-child relationship is different. If you are a parent, what intangibles do wish you could pack? If you are a student, what intangibles do you wish your parents would send?