June 4, 2023
On his first day of kindergarten, we packed a backpack for my son Isaiah. We filled it with everything we thought he might need for this new adventure of school, while he was away from us for the first time.
That was 13 years ago. In three days, my son Isaiah will graduate from high school. So I’m freaking out a little bit. It seems surreal.
I have to say I’m proud of this kid! He’s done well in school. He’s also a decent human being, who respects other human beings and who understands that he needs to contribute to the world and not just take. He’s also an outstanding musician. I’m so impressed by his talent! He’s smart and has common sense and he’s a good friend and he knows it’s important to say, “Thank you.” And I’m excited and happy that he is done with high school and gets to move on with the rest of his life. Of course I am!
But I’m also sad. I really didn’t expect his childhood to be over so soon. I knew this was coming, you guys, because everyone tells you it goes so quickly and so you should savor it. And I did! I mean, I think I did, while also living my life and doing a bunch of other things. But now it’s over.
And I’m also afraid. Afraid that I didn’t teach him enough, prepare him enough, make enough good memories, have enough meaningful conversations about life lessons. Did we play enough family games? Did we take enough vacations? Why didn’t I teach him how to plan meals and grocery shop? Did I talk to him enough about loving God and loving others? Why didn’t Seth and Isaiah take more father-son outings? Why didn’t we read more books together? Why didn’t we discuss world events more? Why didn’t we have people over to our house more to laugh with and make memories?
I honestly just thought there would be more time to create more experiences like this. But the childhood portion is over for him. And I feel guilty. Like I could have done a better job before the opportunity slipped away.
Yesterday I was lying in the hammock, mulling over all these worries, with a few tears leaking out of my eyes. Then God reminded me of a couple of things. The breeze was blowing in the trees, and I felt God’s nearness, and I remembered that God loves my son even more than I do. God will be with him and guide him as he leaves home. I just have to let go and trust God to do what he does best: love us and never leave us.
And then I remembered The Backpack. A few months ago, I read something online about how when parents send their kids off to college, they may feel anxiety about letting go and about whether they have prepared their kid for life. And I read this helpful advice: think of the 18 or 19 years that your child spent with you as your time packing their “backpack.” You filled it with all the things you thought they might need for their adventure of leaving home and facing life. And they will be able to pull those lessons, values, and tools out when the need arises.
So I pondered, what did I try to fill his backpack with?
You are loved.
You are valuable.
You are worthy of being treated with respect.
So is every other person you meet because everyone is created by God, who loves them.
Follow Jesus. He is the only Way.
You are uniquely gifted, and you have something precious to give to this world. You are needed.
Nothing is worth compromising your integrity.
It’s better to be single than to date or marry someone who isn’t right for you.
You don't have to have a big group of friends to be happy, but one good one makes all the difference.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit that you’ve made a mistake.
If the path you’re on isn’t working out, you can choose a new one.
Dad and I are your biggest fans.
You can always come home.
You are loved.
You are loved.
You are loved…
You know how you often hear people say things like, “My mom always told me I could do anything I set my mind to,” or, “My dad always said that hard work is the key to success.” Whenever I hear those comments, I wonder what my kids will look back on as something that I always said while they were growing up. So today I asked them. “Are there any phrases you remember Dad or me saying all the time as a life lesson?”
Isaiah said, “Remember where you are and what you should be doing.” Seth taught him that when he was in elementary school and he had trouble keeping his hands to himself and staying on task. Or when he was going to the children’s program at church and would be tempted to just mess around and be a distraction during the lesson. I reminded Isaiah of this phrase recently when he was going out on the weekend with his best friend. “Remember where you are and what you should be doing.”
My daughter Ivy said, “Guard your gates.” I have said that hundreds of times, especially when they were younger. It means to be selective about the things you allow into your mind. The things you watch and listen to and look at will impact how you think, which will impact who you are. Be cautious about what you allow in. Protect yourself. Choose things that are worthy.
I also asked Isaiah today what kind of person he thinks I want him to be. And he said, “Nice. A nice person.” He was being a smart aleck. I told him nice is too subjective and asked him what that means. So he elaborated, “Be nice to people…Be nice to animals…Be nice to strangers…Be nice to people you like… Be nice to all people…” I laughed. He was not in the mood to be serious about it. But I have to say I’m pleased that the only thing he mentioned was about treating others kindly! I’ll take it.
The backpack analogy gives me hope. Because although I can easily list all the things I didn’t do as a parent while Isaiah was growing up, I can also list a whole lot of things I did well as a parent that I am proud of. I pray that we have packed his backpack wisely and that he will choose things from it that will help him be the man God designed him to be.
I chose Bible verses for my kids years ago that I wanted to pray over them. These are what I chose for Isaiah:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
I was thinking yesterday about when I was in high school and my English teacher gave me an award for writing and she said to the audience, “I look forward to seeing Christi’s shining path unfold.” It sounded a bit dramatic and flowery to say to a high school student. But I can tell you I never forgot it because it spoke such promise into my life.
Isaiah Michael, I look forward to seeing your shining path unfold.