The time has come. You’re excited over your child’s achievements and the future they’re stepping into. But you’re scared, too, and sad even if you do joke about the thrill of having an empty nest. As that beloved child winds up his/her high school career, you may try to think of the very best things to tell him. And then as he/she actually gets ready to drive away, you almost choke in your eagerness to say all that is in your heart. You want your child to leave with wise, strong, good advice–but your mind goes numb and you can’t think of anything.
Do any of the words from your parents still ring in your ears? “Do your best,” “Keep your nose clean,” “Remember who you belong to,” “Mind your manners,” “The grass is not greener on the other side,” or maybe “All that glitters is not gold.”
My dad died before I went to college. But I can hear his voice in my head reciting all four stanzas of “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Even though the poem was written to a son, I always thought the challenges in the verse pertained to women too. Of course, as all life challenges are, they are unattainable but reaching for them will make for characters of integrity. Surely Mr. Kipling would not mind if I give you a few of my favorite lines from his most well-known poem, a poem printed in many congratulations cards for graduates: “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…If you can dream–and not make dreams your master, If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim…If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”…If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!
My mom said “Always remember where home is.” She, like my dad, recited many poems but I think her favorite quotation was Psalm 46:1 and I carry it in my heart wherever I go: “God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
What did I say to my children when they left? I’m not sure. I simply wanted to cling to them and borrow one more year. But of course I couldn’t. Maybe I said, “Be yourself” or “Don’t forget to brush,” some inane helpless advice like that. I hope I told them to remember Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.”
What can you say? Warn them against dangers such as drugs and smooth talkers. Caution them to stay with a safe crowd of friends and to stay clear of doubtful situations, late night walks, and texting strangers. Urge them never to let instructor or anyone else convince them that their skin color means they are either oppressed or an oppressor. And, by all means, tell them to think for themselves and to sift all new ideas through the lens of the Holy Bible.
But when all is said and done, what our young people take with them is as much what we did, how we responded to crisis and everyday life, as it is what came out of our mouths. It is the total fabric of their growing from cuddly babyhood through Little League, tumbling, hormonal pre-teen time, braces, crazy haircuts, and learning to drive. It’s drying tears time, peroxide and bandaid time, listening and sounding off time. It’s the way you encouraged them when they failed, rallied them on when they wanted to quit. It’s the little things. Like birthday sleepovers, ice cream stops, playing board games, laughing at silly jokes, soothing their fears of new experiences, riding the highest coaster with them when you were scared to death. It’s not fainting when introduced to a pet snake. It’s telling them one more time to clean up their room. It’s ball practice in the back yard. It’s vacations at the beach, camping in the rain, catching fireflies, and working as a family team to clean up after a hurricane. It’s just being there.
Words for the graduate? Instead of trying to come up with a wise and forever quotable line, just say “I love you.” That will cover everything.