The following pastoral letter appeared five years ago in the weekly bulletin of First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. As I read it now, I am reminded of the moment in my life. It is like finding an old Polaroid snapshot in a drawer, long forgotten, but when found brings a memory and a tear. I offer it with a prayer for other parents who are “growing up.” God bless you.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Luke 2.52 (NIV)
As I write, Mae and I are preparing to take John Michael to Camp Vesper Point. This will be his first time ever away from us. He is nine years old. That may sound a bit old for a first time away, but John Michael has grown up as a home-missionary kid. In a sense, he has only known being on the move. Planting churches, teaching in seminaries, and the Army Reserve chaplaincy has kept us on the move from Kansas to Georgia (with temporary stops in Wales and Florida). With numerous preaching campaigns across America and Britain, John Michael experienced the ministry on the road, so when we were home together, we usually tried to stay that way. It was always the last thing on our mind to send him away. He has always been part of something new, something starting, and something about to happen. He has prayed with us that God would save souls, bring in a flock to establish a beachhead for the gospel, and he has prayed for families to be mended and for sermon after sermon after sermon to be used of the Lord to glorify Himself and to bless the people. When we sensed God calling us to our present pulpit, once again he packed up and headed for a new home. In all of this, he has been a real trooper. It is hard for a child to adjust and adjust and adjust again and again. But he has. He had to, for this was God’s call on our lives. But this ministry is different. Being a pastor of an established church is different and better in so many ways, one of which is that we are now settled enough to let him stretch and go off to camp. I have every confidence in our Camp Director and in our fine staff…but will I make it?
Last night, John Michael declared, “Dad, tonight, I want to lead our devotions.” He read and then presented a truth for our lives and then prayed. I think he was trying to show me that he is growing up and I had better get ready. I have done this before. I know how it works. I know that I have to help him to enjoy a little, then a little more independence. I have to teach him to grow independent—but, boy, is it hard. I am not going to rush it; he is only nine. He will have plenty of time to be serious, worry about the woes of the world, and act responsibly. For now, let him chase lightening bugs and play G.I. Joe.
I think about Mary and Jospeph and how they had to allow Jesus to grow. He grew in grace. And God used them in that process. What a glorious truth! That God uses fallen people called “parents” with all of our hang ups and fears and mistakes as agents of God’s grace to help children grow. I wonder, though, if Mary or Jospeph felt like me? As they watched Jesus grow, did Mary think of the manger? Did Joseph remember the times of flight from Bethlehem to Egypt, from Egypt to Galilee? When he looked at Jesus as a young man, strong and sturdy, did he see a little boy, perhaps a memory of this special boy following him into the carpenter’s shop? Were there chip marks on the door facing of their home, marking the height of Jesus as he grew?
Camp will be good. Camp will be fun and will teach him responsibility and a healthy independence. I know this—intellectually. Now Mae is calling me downstairs. It is time to go. This is going to be hard. By the time you read this, my boy will have completed his first week away. If I seem a little shaken, you know why. But by God’s grace, we all will make it, and maybe one of us will grow up a little more.
Can you guess which one of us?