A few years ago, I sat in a theater with my third grade daughter watching the Disney Pixar movie Toy Story 3. Over the years, we had watched the other Toy Story movies together, following the adventures of young Andy and his toys, Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
In Toy Story 3, Andy is now 17 years old and preparing to leave for college. At the end of the movie, we find him in his empty room holding the last box to be loaded in his car before he leaves for college. His mom stands by his side crying. He doesn’t understand why.
I looked down at my eight year old daughter and started crying myself. She didn’t understand either. She won’t until she has kids of her own.
I was thinking of that moment this week as I saw all the pictures on Facebook of friends and family dropping off their kids at college. Though it is still a couple of years away for me, I am already preparing myself for that moment.
A little over 25 years ago, my parents drove my older sister and me to our respective colleges. Just before we got to my college, we stopped at a gas station. My father got out to pump the gas and my mom turned and looked at my sister and me.
“I know you both are going to do things you shouldn’t while you are away at college,” she told us, “but I want you to know that every night I pray that God keep you safe until you grow up and learn.”
When our children move out – when they go away to school or get their first apartment – it can be scary for us as parents. While they are young, we have a certain amount of control. We can keep them safe. We can keep an eye on them. We can curb (to a certain extent) the trouble they get into and discipline them when they do.
When they grow up, when they move out, when they go away to college, they are suddenly on their own. We can’t control what they do or where they go. For the most part, we don’t even know what they are doing or who they are with.
That’s when we pray my mother’s prayer. That’s when we remember our children are not alone. God promises to never leave them or forsake them. He promises to send his angels to watch over them in all they do. He promises, “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Does that mean our children will never waver or stray from the faith? Does that mean they won’t fall into the foolish sins of youth? No. But the seeds of God’s truth sown in our children’s hearts when they are young are not easily uprooted. The truth of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ will help them face their failings and find their way.
The idea of our children transitioning from childhood to adulthood – from dependence to independence – is scary for many of us as parents. It’s hard to let go.
So pray my mom’s prayer. Continue to encourage your adult children in their faith. Continue to be an example for them of what it means to love God and be loved by him. And then leave them in God’s powerful hands, trusting that he loves them even more than you do.