Blogger’s Note: Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, July 25, 2018.
Last weekend was a whirlwind. We hosted a graduation party for our second son, Gabe, which meant that my parents, their dog, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Becky, joined the seven of us and our dog in our three-bedroom house Friday through Sunday. The Engels—six in number, and as much family as our blood relatives—spent much of the daylight hours and a few after dark with us as well. The house was packed to the rafters and filled with laughter; the weather was wonderful, the turnout was great, and a joy was pervasive among almost everyone.
Almost everyone, except me.
All weekend, I was short-tempered, unfocused and melancholy. It’s true I am an emotional guy, but generally upbeat about milestones like graduation and leaving the nest. After all, this is what we want and expect for our children—it is a very good thing, and we ought to celebrate!
Looking back on the weekend, however, several thoughts stand out:
- Gabe is leaving in less than a month to be a NET Ministries missionary. He will not know until after training whether he will be on a traveling team or embedded in a parish somewhere in the country—and if he ends up traveling, we will not know where he is much of the time.
- Our oldest son, Brendan, will leave a week later for his third and final year at University of Mary in Bismarck. After that, he is considering graduate school, perhaps in Europe, or taking a year to work and pay off student loans. Becky has two more years before she graduates, which may play into the geography and timing of his decisions. Regardless, this may be the last summer he is home with the family.
- Emma and Trevor will be in 11th and 9th grades, respectively. In less than two months, we will be setting the table for five, and in four short years, it will be just me, Jodi and Lily, our first-grader.
- And our eldest Engel daughter, who has been a fixture in our family, is leaving for Mary as well. The whole dynamic of our families and our friendship, which has been such a joy and comfort to us, is about to change in unforeseeable ways.
What I said above stands: These are all good things, and we should celebrate. Of course, it stands to reason that I will miss my children when they leave the nest. But why is it so hard this time?
When Brendan left for University of Mary for the first time, I knew where he was going and (in broad terms) what he was doing there. When we drop Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul, we have no idea where he will go or what he will be doing. All of us, including him, will have to wait and see.
When we dropped Brendan off in Bismarck the first time, we knew he would back over breaks and the following summer. When we drop him off this time, we don’t know whether or when he is coming back.
When I look ahead, the future is bright, but blinding. I can’t see where I am headed, much less where my children will end up. My illusion of control is breaking down.
Near the end of one of my favorite Fr. Mike Schmitz videos, entitled “You’re Not Good Enough (and Why That’s Okay),” he proclaims, “I’m not good enough to go to the Olympics, and I’m not good enough to go to Heaven…but any one of us can surrender.”
He’s not wrong—but it’s not as easy as waving the white flag. Why? Because giving ourselves over to God requires complete trust in His plan and His providence. My children, biological and spiritual, often give themselves to God more easily than I do. Mine is a grasping, clutching, clinging weakness—so I pray for strength to let go.
Some years ago I wrote a blog post about my older boys’ plans for the future, and a priest friend said, “Like Abraham, you are learning to sacrifice your sons.”
That lesson is hitting home this week. And I am certain this is only the next step toward learning, like Jesus, to sacrifice myself.
Lord, grant me the grace to give all that I have—wife and children, body and soul, blood and breath—for You. Amen.