by Max Lucado
Jenna, wake up. It’s time to go to school.”
She will hear those words a thousand times in her life. But she heard them for the first time this morning.
I sat on the edge of the bed for a while before I said them to her. To tell the truth, I didn’t want to say them. I didn’t want to wake her. A queer hesitancy hung over me as I sat in the early morning blackness. As I sat in silence, I realized that my words would awaken her to a new world.
For four lightning-fast years she’d been ours, and ours alone. And now that was all going to change.
We put her to bed last night as “our girl”—exclusive property of Mommy and Daddy. Mommy and Daddy read to her, taught her, listened to her. But beginning today, someone else would, too.
Until today, it was Mommy and Daddy who wiped away the tears and put on the Band-Aids. But beginning today, someone else would, too.
I didn’t want to wake her.
Until today, her life was essentially us—Mom, Dad, and baby sister Andrea. Today that life would grow—new friends, a teacher. Her world was this house—her room, her toys, her swing set. Today her world would expand. She would enter the winding halls of education—painting, reading, calculating…becoming.
I didn’t want to wake her. Not because of the school. It’s a fine one. Not because I don’t want her to learn. Heaven knows I want her to grow, to read, to mature. Not because she doesn’t want to go. School has been all she could talk about for the last week!
No, I didn’t want to wake her up because I didn’t want to give her up.
But I woke her up anyway. I interrupted her childhood with the inevitable proclamation, “Jenna, wake up—it’s time to go to school.”
It took me forever to get dressed. My wife, Denalyn, saw me moping around and heard me humming “Sunrise, Sunset” and said, “You’ll never make it through the wedding.” She’s right.
We drove two cars to Jenna’s school so that I could go directly to work. I asked Jenna to ride with me. I thought I should give her a bit of fatherly assurance. As it turned out, I was the one needing assurance.
For one dedicated to the craft of words, I found very few to share with her. I told her to enjoy herself. I told her to obey her teacher. I told her, “If you get lonely or afraid, tell your teacher to call me and I’ll come and get you.” “Okay,” she said, and smiled. Then she asked if she could listen to a tape with kids’ music. “Okay,” I said.
So while she sang songs, I swallowed lumps. I watched her as she sang. She looked big. Her little neck stretched as high as it could to look over the dash. Her eyes were hungry and bright. Her hands were folded in her lap. Her feet, wearing brand-new turquoise and pink tennis shoes, barely extended over the seat.
What is she thinking? I wondered. Does she know how tall this ladder of education is that she will begin to climb this morning?
No, she didn’t. But I did. How many chalkboards will those eyes see? How many books will those hands hold? How many teachers will those feet follow and—gulp—imitate?
Were it within my power, I would have, at that very instant, assembled all the hundreds of teachers, instructors, coaches, and tutors that she would have over the next eighteen years and announced, “This is no normal student. This is my child. Be careful with her!”
As I parked and turned off the engine, my big girl became small again. But it was the voice of a very little girl that broke the silence. “Daddy, I don’t want to get out.”
I looked at her. The eyes that had been bright were now fearful. The lips that had been singing were now trembling.
I fought a Herculean urge to grant her request. Everything within me wanted to say, “Okay, let’s forget it and get out of here.” For a brief, eternal moment I considered kidnapping my own daughters, grabbing my wife, and escaping these horrid paws of progress to live forever in the Himalayas.
But I knew better. I knew it was time. I knew it was right. And I knew she would be fine. But I never knew it would be so hard to say, “Honey, you’ll be all right. Come on, I’ll carry you.”
And she was all right. One step into the classroom and the cat of curiosity pounced on her. And I walked away. I gave her up. Not much. And not as much as I will have to in the future. But I gave her up as much as I could today.
I’m convinced that mothers and fathers in North America are among the best in the world. We care passionately about our kids and will do anything to meet their needs. But we are among the worst when it comes to letting go of our sons and daughters. In fact, those two characteristics are linked.
The same commitment that leads us to do so well when the children are small (dedication, love, concern, involvement) also causes us to hold too tightly as they grow up. We forget that the process of releasing our children must be a gradual one. With each stage, we let go just a little more. And when the time comes for your grown children to leave the shelter of home, you must let go completely. Your role after that point is to continue to pray every day, holding up your son or daughter before the Lord as he or she makes those first halting steps into adulthood, and to be available when asked for advice. But your son or daughter will own his or her decisions in the future.
I will admit to my own difficulties in this area. Before our kids were born, I understood that I would one day need to turn them loose. I wrote extensively on the subject while they were still young. But when the time came to open my hand and let the birds fly, I struggled mightily! I loved the experience of fatherhood and was not ready to give it up.
As your children mature, you too will be challenged to open your hand. It is a matter of trusing them—and of trusting God: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4). It may not be easy, but when we release our children into the care of our loving Father, we allow them to fulfill His perfect plan for the rest of their days.
- James C Dobson
“Our Girl” by Max Lucado. From Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado (Sisters, Ore.: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1989). Used by permission.