Our youngest son, Gabe, graduated from high school on Saturday. He donned the traditional cap and gown and walked the traditional path to the diploma distributors, and voila! He finished a 12-year school career, just like that.
Phew. After three years in a tiny Christian school, seven years of homeschooling, and two years in public high school…he made it.
And so did I.
At least I think I’m making it through okay. It’s a strange time for me, though. Gabe is the last of our six kids and, even though he won’t be leaving home for a little while yet, this milestone is hitting me hard. I’m struggling a bit with how life will look for me and Mike when our proverbial nest is proverbially empty.
I’ve been a mom since I was a mere eighteen-year-old, so the last thirty years–my entire adult life so far–have been spent caring for, fussing over, cleaning up after, and nagging, threatening, and obsessing over the kids God chose to give me.
So, what in the world will I do with all that empty worrying time?
Will I hide Easter eggs for Lucky to find?
Will I get out the Lego tubs and build open-roofed RVs for a My Little Pony vacation extravaganza and then yell at Lucky to pick it all up when I step on Posey and Minty’s portable corral in the middle of the night?
Or will I have to start making huge batches of cream sauces and homemade puddings to use up all the gallons of milk that I can’t force myself to stop buying?
And how does a person cook for two, anyway? Dirtying all those pots and pans for a whole meal that’s smaller than one of our son’s snacks just seems wasteful, somehow.
What will I do? Who will I be when I’m not a round-the-clock mom anymore? Huh?
Can anyone tell me?
I’m wondering if that’s how Nicodemus, a New Testament Pharisee, felt when he faced the prospect of graduating from the Old Covenant to the New. After his famous John 3 encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus must have, at some level, embraced the radical, progressive teaching of Jesus. The bible doesn’t say much about Nicodemus, but there is mention of him defending Jesus in front of a Jewish ruling council, and also helping to prepare Jesus’ body for burial after the crucifixion. Nicodemus would not have done these things if he had remained stuck in the Good Ol’ Boys Pharisee network.
Nicodemus and many other faithful Jews would eventually come to the end of their Pharisaical schooling and move on into the freedom of the New Covenant as converted Christians. Yet, even though the New was liberating, the change couldn’t have been easy. The religious Jews’ entire lives revolved around studying, interpreting and living out endless details of the Old Testament Law. For them, careful, strict obedience to their religious rituals was as natural and necessary as grocery shopping is for us. It would have been understandably difficult for them to just wake up one day and be told that God didn’t require all those things anymore.
It would be like us waking up one Sunday morning and being told by God that we have graduated and are now free to do anything we want to that day. Anything.
So what would anything look like?
I think that would be more a test of the depth of our relationship with God, than a test of exactly where the boundaries of acceptable Christian behavior are situated.
I mean, really now–given the choice of anything on a Sunday morning, I don’t see myself running out to find a drug dealer, or racing off to the store to shoplift, or settling down in front of a nickel poker machine to gamble away my husband’s choice lumber fund. I think I can be trusted to not do that stuff.
I would most likely choose to do what I want. And for me, that would be to skip off with Mike to our little born-again Amish church and sing lots of songs to God and hear some good preaching and go home to enjoy our beautiful corner of Idaho paradise. Who knows? I might even read my bible and pray just for the fun of it. Or maybe not.
Maybe I’d go find my precious granddaughters and take them in my arms and kiss them until they yell and squirm. And maybe that would be exactly what God had in mind for me on that Sunday morning.
Being given the freedom to do anything we want by God means that He trusts the Holy Spirit that lives in us. This presence in us works with our conscience to help shape our desires and choices. I know it lives in me because I have all these strange desires to talk to God a lot and to read about Him in the bible. And I’m slowly losing my desire to do unhealthy things. It’s not an immediate operation, but slowly, slowly, I know I’m making better choices as I grow older.
My Pharisaism disease squelched the Spirit in me. Wally, my inner Pharisee, told me that I was still a little kid in school and couldn’t be trusted to make healthy choices without the safety of external legalities to box me in. He told me I had to do certain things and adhere to a certain narrow theology in order to be recognized as a Christian in his Evangelical world.
And it wasn’t just my disease that was a problem. Unhealthy Christians are everywhere. Every denonimation–Protestant, Catholic, or other–has been infected throughout the last two thousand years. These ill individuals and churches are blind to their condition and spend a good deal of time trying to make sure other Christians don’t walk forward into the freedom of amazing grace. They are bossy, not trusting that the New, two thousand-year-old Covenant truly is written internally, in human hearts.
Years later, the Apostle Paul would wrestle (figuratively, of course) with the people he called the “Judaizers.” In fact, the entire book of Galatians is devoted to this subject. The Judaizers were believers in Christ who insisted that some of the Old Testament practices were still required by the fledgling church. They tried to force new Christians to either adopt or continue practicing certain Jewish rites, especially circumcision. They even argued that Paul’s abandonment of that part of the Jewish religion was proof that he was a fraud, and that he was just trying to make the Gospel more appealing to the Gentiles.
They were scared to death of the freedom Jesus had introduced into the world of religion.
Thankfully, Paul stood his ground and made a very clear case for grace. His letter to the confused Galatians shows how the introduction of additional requirements for their new faith walk perverted the New Covenant and could potentially bring all the converts back into the bondage of legalism.
These guys were just really, really afraid that without the iron fence of the Law, new Christians would run amok. If you haven’t done so in a while, I urge you to read the book of Galatians for yourself and see how Paul responded to these early Pharisaism disease carriers. It’s an eye-opener, for sure.
My reluctance to fully embrace my freedom from Pharisaism was definitively Galatian-esque. Hesitant to leave my old churchiness behind, I was like a reluctant graduate. I don’t think there’s ever been a graduation ceremony where the capped and gowned graduate stood at the edge of the platform, and, not wanting to leave his or her old life behind, refuses to walk forward toward the diploma.
Yet, I would need some further pushing and prodding from God to confidently step ahead into a deeper and freer relationship with Him when the time finally arrived.
I had just been a Christian for so long that, like Paul’s Jewish friends, my disentanglement from the old would be a bit complicated and messy.
But that’s okay because God has an infinite amount of patience.
So, here I stand, on the verge of a new chapter in my physical life, and I’m worrying again. Will I stay stuck in perpetual motherhood or bravely face my new role as…what?
I have to admit that Mike and I are already enjoying some heretofore unheard-of freedoms as a childless couple. After decades of scrimping and budgeting to meet our large family’s needs, we are suddenly discovering that it just might be okay to spend a little extra money once in awhile.
Just the other day,while standing in front of a fast food counter, Mike turned to me and quietly asked, “Would it be all right if I ordered something not on the value menu?”
I felt a little funny, happy-type feeling crawl through me as I whispered back, “Yes, go for it!”
I then watched my sacrificial husband, like a properly attired graduate, step up to the till and in a shaky voice bravely announce, “I’ll take the number three combo meal, please.”
Freedom, here we come!!