Graduation day. This significant marker in a person’s life does not go unnoticed. Family and friends are eager to watch as their loved one walks across the stage, shakes the administrator’s hand and grabs their hard-earned diploma. Cell phones are recording videos and snapping pictures to capture this special moment honoring academic achievement.
Those unable to attend the ceremony are happy to send well wishes through cards, phone calls and social media. They may even be watching live streams on their phones or computers. This is an extraordinary day of expectations fulfilled and yet to come.
As a youth pastor, I have watched over 20 years of senior classes graduate. Watching parents in our church raise their children, struggle through the teenage years and launch their young adults off to college or into the workforce has to some extent been my life.
I have been to many high school graduations, but never as the parent. That will change soon. My oldest child will graduate in 2021. In some ways, I feel like I have been there before. Yet, in many more ways, being the parent has brought new perspective.
To walk with parents and teens as they grow and mature together in the midst of struggles, joy, victories and defeats has been a privilege. It has taught me how fast these years go and how quickly transitions happen. It prepared me to walk through these teenage years with my boys.
I have been very purposeful in thinking that the desire of my heart is for my sons to live their lives knowing and loving God. As they have grown, I have wanted their love for God to come first and for that to determine their course in life, their relationships, their jobs, their life journeys. One thing I’ve tried to guard against is trying to plan out their lives for them.
I prepared for the rapid pace of high school. It has been a gift to be able to keep an eye out for and seek out those opportunities for sweet times together. I prepared for their quest for independence and have been able to step back and let go. While it isn’t always easy, it has been helpful to be intentional and recognize that not every moment is a teachable moment. Often the teaching has come in not saying anything.
I was prepared for anything parenting a teen could throw at me. Ha! You know that’s not true, but it is how I felt until my oldest did something unexpected. I have been intentional and involved and wanting him to make his own choices. Wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly what he did! Only this time he didn’t make the same decisions for his life that I would have made if I were in his situation. As my son has grown, I have appreciated and encouraged his ability to make his own decisions apart from the pressures and expectations of others. However, those “others” were not meant to include me. It was easy when his choices were those I would have chosen for him.
Suddenly, I am once again aware of my selfishness. It comes out in my parenting, marriage, politics, church life and everywhere. I’m driven over and over to say to the Lord, “Not my will, but yours.” One more year until graduation. May I trust in the Lord and lay my will down.
Russ Claassen is the Southern District Conference youth minister and serves with USMB Youth, the national youth leadership team. Claassen graduated from Tabor College in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and from Denver Seminary in 1999 with a master’s degree in youth and family ministry. he has 20 years of experience working with youth and families in the church and camp ministry settings. He and his wife, Chandelle, have two sons and live in Newton, Kansas.