Here in good ol’ Polk County, FL the kids started public school yesterday, and for the first time I experienced this day on the parenting side of the aisle. Sure, my kids have gone to preschool, but in my case they never really left me as my office is just down the hall from those sweet pre-k classrooms filled with cut-outs of fish, letters, and Scripture verses taped to the walls.
This was different. It felt like I was sending my 6-year-old boy to the mines. I know that is an extreme exaggeration, and there are actually kids in the world that toil away in slave labor conditions, so who am I, with my first-world problems, to be anything but grateful that we don’t live in that state… I get it. But the fact is, as safe as the school is, and as good as his teacher appears to be, Jules and I had to leave our son in an unfamiliar hallway, full of unfamiliar kids, and unfamiliar noises. The potential for unkindness, failure, and disappointment loomed all around.
He put on a brave face, but we could see it: he was nervous.
I wanted to keep him with me. I wanted to keep him protected from the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable and the scary. Walking away from that school, my heart felt like it was beating outside my chest, and it has felt like that all day. It’s felt like that for several days even anticipating this moment. I remember my own first days of school. Kindergarten… 1st grade… those first days were awful. I was a major weeper, too. I cried and cried and cried. I wanted my Momma. I wanted to go home. I would get so anxious I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. I had good teachers, but it was the unknown, the potential for badness all around – that terrified me.
All those memories came screaming back to me, and all I wanted was to protect Caleb from ever feeling those drowning emotions. I want him to stay a baby and reliant on me for everything, yet I know that’s not the healthy thing for Caleb. I DO want him to grow. He needs to learn how to adjust and navigate the waters of our culture. He needs to have those uncomfortable moments and learn he can talk to me and Jules if he’s scared or has a problem. He needs to learn to rely on his own developing little faith in Jesus Christ to guide the daily choices that will face him.
The last few days I have been quoting to myself from Ecclesiastes 3:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV
There’s a time for everything – and this is the time for Caleb to go to school and a time for him to learn and a time to grow. And for me… it’s a time begin the all-too-quick process of letting him grow up.
In a microcosmic way, the process of letting Caleb grow up reminds me so much of how God must look on us when we go through the difficulties and tragedies of our lives. We face the uncomfortable and sometimes terrifying reality of a fallen world each and everyday, and there are times when the implications of that reality are deeply painful. At any point, God has the power to swoop in and change it all, and it is through those moments when we grow the most. But God is most concerned with our growth.
Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4 ESV
Facing the pain of life is not a joyful experience, but the growth it brings can be. Even psychology backs this up.
In a 2010 article published in Clinical Psychology Review, Alex Wood and associates published, “Gratitude and well-being,” Alex Wood and his associates cited the positive effects of gratitude on PTSD, and even determined that when subjects made a conscious effort to find the thankfulness in a situation, a person’s overall psychological outlook was even better than before the trauma. The idea was that people, who understood the benefits of the end result, could be grateful for even the pain they experienced… they counted it all joy.
That’s what growing up means, I think. And my prayer for myself, parents, and all the ‘back-to-school’ kids this year is that we will learn to embrace the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, and the difficult as a preparation for our own growth.