As we say goodbye yet again to another college student, you’d think the tears wouldn’t flow. Alas, they do. And my heart twinged as my husband pulled off of our driveway on a perfect 64-degree morning with our 3 teenage sons and daughter heading off for an 8 hour drive to college. They had the windows rolled down, and were waving outside of the minivan. Why does it feel so bittersweet? So much is on the horizon for them over the next 48 hours as they take her to her dorm. Not only do they get to help her move in, they also will see their sister just celebrated another birthday while in the college town. My heart is so grateful, full of pride at all of my children’s accomplishments, but also sad that they go. Our little bird is flying the coop.
As is the case with many things, she isn’t our first. This is our “feisty cutie”! Strong willed doesn’t begin to describe this beautiful daughter of ours, and she is treasured beyond words, but without her determination and “fight”, she wouldn’t be with us today. This eaglet is our cardiac kiddo. Knowing this, having lived with this, doesn’t change the fact that I miss my children when they leave as adults.
In the Gospel this weekend, Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” As Catholics we believe that the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament and the New Testament is hidden in the Old! The connection in this Gospel was super subtle, but very relevant! His disciples responded with what everyone else around said, but Jesus’ question was not, who do they say, but WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM? Jesus is my all, He is my everything. Our Presiding Priest pointed to the importance of the location of where Jesus was when speaking these words. He mentioned the Baptism of Jesus that happened before this point, but also what Jesus was looking at as He spoke these words. (There's that OT/ NT connection!). Not relying on only the words, and their immense importance, but also the rich history that is stacked in the location of this Gospel. Can you imagine? His reflection was deep and intense, but the real crux of it is …today, in the midst of our chosen sins, pride, the gods of video games, sexual pleasures, materialism and gluttony, the sins of our nation in abortion, human trafficking, and immense sin. Who do we say that Jesus is? Is He truly our Christ? Our personal Messiah, (or do I reach for chocolate after a long day or seek temporary relief in my game on the phone)? Am I turning to Jesus as much as I think I do? Or am I turning to other people, and things around me? (Like the people in the Old Testament who the name and rivers were named after?) The "Great I Am" asks the question of each of us! What was Jesus looking at when asking this question to the disciples? Whose eyes did he peer into and read their soul in that moment? “Jesus, please, reach into mine, and help me understand what you want to reveal so I can live more fully for You!” As I have reflected on the fact that these are the last words of Jesus that we heard together as a family, I wonder, God, who will you be to her this semester? What will she find out about You and how will she grow in You this collegiate year? What is our role?
As our children become adults, we are less the formers of circumstances and trying to order things for them, and more like an Eagle trainer. We live by the mouth of the Mississippi. As we travel, anywhere, even at baseball games, we see massive nests where eagles live. Constantly the gigantic birds are in a state of flight, or dipping down to grab fish out of lakes and rivers. In some places, there are trained eagles. I feel like as a parent of adults, I am like the eagle trainer. For 3 major birds in our lives, that have left our nest, and 2 have created their own. We have always given them the arm out…the place where to land and know they are home. It is with us, wherever we are and for as long as we comfortably can. Everyone in our family sacrifices to make it happen! As they fly off, they decide when they come back. They grow into who they are. When they need to, they know they are welcome back- where they can land whether that is a phone call about a hospital visit, a celebration of a 21-mile run, or just needing to hear a familiar voice. The arm stays out.
The hard part with this one precious eaglet, is she didn’t just fly off…she pooped all over the nest while leaving the first time. She attacked and pecked at the arm that was extended for her. Those little precious eagles usually leave poop and feathers behind. Many of our adult children do with the choices that they make…some go to prison, others graduate from college or return for breaks, some thrive in the workforce, others drink themselves silly, some make other unhealthy choices, others go on trips to Colorado to bike and hike 14 -17 miles a day, some choose lives of holiness and community, while others choose interesting partners, some “leave the Faith” for time, and some make choices that do not ensure their own long term happiness: the choices are theirs and they have and use free will. They become who they are in the world, but we stay where we are, and let them. We hold out our arm like an eagle trainer and wait…we have to as parents. We have to let them go and figure out who they are. The eagles need to return when they are ready, and have the freedom to leave again to prepare their own place in the world. They have to live with their own mistakes. As parents, we no longer can protect them from their own poop and feathers, they get all the benefits and consequences of both. We cannot fight their battles, but we can support them, listen to them, and be present when they want to share what is affecting them.
Where Jesus stood, he faced the place of tremendous history, where God’s people made choices, and other empires came in and made other choices, but the land on which he stood…there comes a point and all have to answer…”Who do you say that I am?” Our little eagles, as they fly off, don’t always know where they are going. They fly off, more and more for longer and longer times until they don’t even call on their birthdays. Jesus knew the disciples wouldn’t always stay faithful to Him, and He trusted them, and spoke truth again and again. So is our job as parents. No matter what our children say, they don’t have to understand us, we need to take care of ourselves and our own feelings and wellbeing. We are not supposed to share our struggles and sadness with them, but encourage them and help point them in the right direction. If were honest, to the best of our ability, we support our adult children in becoming who God has created them to be, and we don’t know what looks like…so we support them growing the best we can. They need a safe place to land, a home where they are accepted, and sometimes knowing that they have us gives them the confidence to stand on their own in the world, and helps them to answer Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”