Last weekend brought a significant transition for my family. Kimberly and I helped our one and only child, Jonathan, move into his dorm at Mississippi State University to begin his freshman year of college.

The day was awash with emotions. Some of the emotions were to be expected, others caught me entirely off guard. And sure, there were a few tears.

First, I am excited about his journey. Oh, the changes these college years will bring in his life. Jonathan has a new chance to thrive and move on from the challenges of attending a high-performing, academically competitive high school. Soon the awkwardness and that feeling of tragic urgency so prevalent in the early teen years will be a faint memory. Jonathan has a new opportunity to choose a set of friends who will help him grow spiritually and blossom as an adult. During this time Jonathan will decide the type of man he wants to be. Our prayer is that he will become a man after God’s own heart.

The changes for us will be quite different – loosening the grip enough for him to thrive but holding tight enough for him to know that our love for him is unconditional. We will have to trust him and transfer responsibility to him. When Jonathan needs to talk, we will be as close as a phone call.

Most of all, we will just miss him. As he has grown into a young man, Jonathan has become a very interesting person – someone who says and thinks important things; someone who is funny and fun to be with. To be clear, he has always been clever, interesting, and fun – even before he could speak. Anyone who has known him very long at all knows just how special he is. But over time, Jonathan has become more mature, intelligent, and interesting in a new way. I will miss being with him. I will miss his God-given concern and compassion for others and his contagious optimism. These are the aspect of Jonathan’s faith and walk with Christ that God uses to teach me and challenge me to grow.

I will miss going to record stores and Goodwill stores with Jonathan and hurrying home to spin the vinyl treasures we found. I will miss our Saturday trips to the library book sale. We always have a great time just being together.

Sending Jonathan away to school is bittersweet, but it isn’t tragic. In fact, it is a really good thing for him and it will be good for us. I know this will be a great experience for him. At the same time, I don’t look forward to seeing him less. I mean, I was just now getting decent at this parenting thing and now it’s time for him to go. On the bright side, Kimberly and I will have more time to enjoy and encourage each other.

Although it will take time for me to adjust to this major change, I have no desire to hold Jonathan back. Since the day God entrusted Jonathan into our arms, every moment has been leading to this one. Since the day of his birth, I knew my most important task was to raise Jonathan to be a fully committed follower of Christ (Deut. 6:4-9 and Prov. 22:6). There are many things I could have done better as a father and spiritual leader but Jonathan is ready for this journey and I couldn’t be prouder of him.

Eventually, more changes will come – a family of his own, a full-time job, and responsibilities that make it more difficult for him to spend time with us. I don’t want to rush any of those other big transitions, but when these come I will be ready. While difficult days come during this process, it is exciting to see your son become a man.

To all the parents who are still having tea parties with their daughters and coaching their sons’ t-ball games, I have words of warning and encouragement. Time is like a raging river speeding to the future. There will be rough patches – like the ones you encounter while white water rafting (to continue the analogy). There will be placid times when life seems slower, easier. Other difficulties come making the current of life slow down and it seems like your child is stuck in a moment that just won’t end. There will fun times you wish would never end.

Just know, you will be sending your child out into the world (to college, to work, to the military) sooner than you can ever imagine. Make the most of the moments you have now. Pour into your child. Walk with Christ and teach your child to walk with Christ. Then when this day comes, you can enjoy seeing your child take the next step toward adulthood. You will miss them every day because you love them, but you can rest assured that your son or daughter is prepared and ready.

Photo by Mary Emmanuelle Photography

One thought on “Jonathan goes to College: Loosening the grip without letting go

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