This morning I dropped my firstborn off for her first day of school. Maybe that doesn’t sound impressive. But listen: this precious little girl, whom I have been holding since she was 7 pounds 9 ounces 19 and ¾ inches, whose food I have shoveled and airplaned into her mouth, who has received a late night kiss from my lips every night of her life as she sleeps, with whom I have watched countless episodes of Mickey Mouse and My Little Pony, and for whose sake I gladly renounced what I used to call “free time”—I drove this little girl to a government owned facility and left her there. For most of the day! I left her with a group of five year old strangers (and a couple of friends, thank the Lord).
Here’s the crazy part: I fully intend to do this again five days a week for the next 13 years! Then I’ll probably be sending her (at crippling personal expense) to some far-flung college (may it never be!) for another 4+ years of being shaped outside of my immediate presence. And then she’ll likely meet some punk kid (everyone will probably think he’s super sweet, but I’ll know better), fall in love, and start a family of her own. Then I’ll see her from time to time at best.
Needless to say, I’m sitting here thinking, “What have I done?” How could I drop her off and drive away?
Let me admit right off the bat that I don’t know what I’m talking about here. My oldest child is almost six: I know nothing about parenting. But as my daughter sits in a classroom, being taught for the first of countless days by a teacher I’ve never met (I’m sure she’s wonderful, truly), it occurs to me that this is just one in a long sequence of letting go experiences.
When my daughters, Abigail and Claire, were first born, it was all about holding on. I scooped them up. I held on tight. I’ve spent so many delirious hours rocking to sleep and singing nursery rhymes and crawling on the floor and reading Goodnight Moon and applying band-aids to nonexistent owies and kissing chubby cheeks and holding miniature hands. At some point, my back will offer its last piggy-back ride, but I could continue with the holding on phase forever. And then for forever again. I’ve grown my own friends, and I love how they’re turning out. Letting go strikes me now as the worst-case scenario.
I’ve literally cried while talking to parents during our college orientation weekends—parents who are dropping their daughters off to attend college across the country—I smelled these parents’ uncertainties and I shed tears of panic, realizing that one day I’ll be letting go of my beautiful girls.
And I started letting go today. I’m not sorry that I’ve been holding on. I’ve “helicoptered” around the playground, and I don’t regret the times I saved my daughters from breaking their necks by falling off the climbing wall. I’ll hold these girls tightly for as long as the Lord leaves them in my care. God entrusted me with these two magnificent human beings, and I plan to cherish every moment I have with them. But I realize they’re not mine to hold—at least, not forever. Right now, holding them has been an important part of fulfilling the stewardship God has blessed me with. But to be a faithful steward, letting go will be an important part of the process. The world is all around them, and they need to see it. I can tell them about it, but they need to get out there.
I recently taught Abigail how to ride a bike. I removed the training wheels and ran alongside my little pedaler, holding the seat of her bike to keep it steady. She did great with my hand firmly gripping that seat. Eventually I let go—only for a few seconds!—and she rode. I put my hand back on and steadied the now wobbling bike. And then, one time, I took my hand off the bike and she rode well and I didn’t put my hand back on the bike again. She’s my little bike-riding girl now; she’s having a blast and I’m so proud.
I expect to continue to have recurring moments of holding on. She’ll get the tightest hugs of her life every day when she comes home from school, and I plan to give her late night sleeping kisses every night she lives under my roof. I’ll hold her when she cries and when she’s happy and when she succeeds and when she’s feeling sappy. But I’ll also let go—every single day—and get her out there in the world. There’s so much I still want to and plan to teach her about the world and God and people and herself. But I will also let go and send her to learn from other people, to thrive in real friendships, to experience the beauty and joy and brokenness and glory of the world firsthand. I’ll teach her about all of these things, and I’ll help her debrief her experiences with them. And in between I’ll let go.
I don’t want to. I want to hold on tightly forever. But God has given me these miraculous little girls to make his world a better place, to spread his kingdom into nooks and crannies I could never dream of, to heal hurts that I’ll never be aware of, to reflect his image in places and ways that go beyond my tiny imaginative capacity. These girls are his. And I’m so thankful he has entrusted them to my wife and I. And I’m beginning a regular process of praying for the strength and wisdom to let go at all the right times.
Happy first day of school, everyone.