I hear their voices call my name. I see their eyes gaze up in wonderment, shoes on the wrong feet. I feel their sticky little hands grasp my fingers. I touch my face, moist with kisses from a cheek recently lathered in buttered bread.
If only time would stand still.
These “little years” will be gone so soon. I want to cling forever to these moments with young children, but I know this season will pass by me all too quickly. They are not growing into my grasp — they are growing out of it.
Is there room for parents’ sorrow even though it is for our good and theirs that our children grow up? We are called to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6), but who is going to train us to let them grow?
Our Greatest Joy
It can, and will, be our greatest joy “to hear that [our] children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4) — if their growing up means they come to the Great Bridegroom and grow in knowledge of him.
John the Baptist joyfully and humbly proclaimed the name of Jesus and prepared the hearts of his disciples for someone greater. John’s disciples posed as threats to John’s ministry the baptisms Jesus conducted and the mass of people who flocked to him (John 3:26) — when the people had initially flocked to John (Mark 1:5). Yet John did not feel threatened — he rejoiced. His identity was wrapped up in the one for whom he prepared the way.
He embraced his pivotal role as the “the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him” and “rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29). Jesus’s coming did not steal John’s joy. It completed his joy. It was a reminder to John of his rightful place, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John was Jesus’s messenger, sent to prepare the way and prepare a people for the coming of the King (Mark 1:5; Luke 1:17). And he did just that.
Prepare Them to Walk Without You
Christian parents — like John in his faithful, preparatory ministry — are friends of the Great Bridegroom. We have spoken on his behalf, and we rejoice when we hear his voice speak to our children. We dare not hinder their coming to him. “To such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Jesus spoke these words to his disciples who implied that children were worth little — a hindrance to Jesus’s busy ministry.
But Jesus also speaks to us — to parents — who know their children are worth much, and whose sorrow can hinder children coming because we keep them to ourselves. But as we let them grow, as we let them go, Jesus takes them in and blesses them (Mark 10:16). We may have the privilege to walk with them in their early years with Jesus, but our job is to prepare them to walk with him — without us.
It is hard, but good, for our children to grow toward the very person we have proclaimed. And God affords our sorrow a place, even in a call for joy (2 Corinthians 6:10).
My heart pleads, “Stay three forever.” But Jesus says, “Let your little children come to me.” My soul cries, “Let me hold you and sing to you forever.” But he says to me, “Let me hold them and have them sing to me with you forever.”
My mind thinks, “There can be no greater joys with my children than those of today.” But Jesus says, “What I have in store for you is far better.” My hands grasp, “Stay with me.” But he is changing me to say, “Go to him. My greatest joy.”
To Have Them Back
The joys of these little years are pointers of what is to come — who is to come. The days we once feared would come to an end will be replaced by endless days filled with unceasing joy. But our greatest joy in this day does not leave us out of the picture. Our slow parting — our children growing — enables them to return, no longer as slaves to sin, but as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ (Philemon 15–16).
Letting our children go means the possibility of having them back as coheirs with Christ — and us. They depart, that we may have them “back forever” (Philemon 15). Our hands that mourn their loosening grasp on our children will tingle with their familiar touch once more, as we worship our Lord together. Forever.
On That Day
One day there will be a knock at the door. Distant laughter bounces off the walls as I cautiously walk over to open the door. Rays of sunshine burst in as the light source, adorned in dazzling white, steps into the house. He knows I know why he has come. He doesn’t rush me. He puts his hands on my shoulders and gazes into the wet eyes of my contorted face.
“My friend, it is time. You have been faithful in your work, and I have come to bring your children to walk with me in the sun, as you do. You have held their hands. Now, it is my turn.”
I embrace my children before they eagerly run into his arms. Tears stream down my cheeks as I wave goodbye, rejoicing greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice. I watch them disappear into the sunlight. I will see them again. We will follow him together.
Then will my joy be complete. I will wipe away my own tears and whisper to myself, “He has increased.”