My son’s room is like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Toppled block buildings and crayon-wrapper debris lay atop overturned die-cast cars and plastic little-people corpses. Blankets have tumbled to the floor like a California mud-slide. I don’t want to think about the refugees hastily rushed under the bed.
I’ve seen this before, in my own room, years ago. I can still hear my mom hollering at me to clean up my act. I can remember those times when she would look at me, exasperated, and say: “Someday, you’ll be grown up. You’re going to have a kid, and you’ll understand.”
Mom didn’t live long enough to see my kids, or to hear me apologize to her for all the grief I put her through. But she was right. I’m all grown up, and I’m beginning to understand.
When I was younger I imagined that being adult would feel like freedom–a me-focused wave of empowerment. Instead it sometimes feels like desperation–an overwhelming need to know that my wife and kids are going to be alright. I can finally answer the internal question “Am I an adult yet?” with a nod. But it is not enough.
Every lesson my mom tried to teach me was for my own good. She wanted to save me from experiencing pain. Now I’m the one hollering, worrying about the trouble my son will someday experience. I see the disasters in his room as a metaphor for what his life could be, and I am frightened.
I can do a lot to prepare my son for the future (as I know my parents did for me), but I cannot completely protect him from pain or failure. Circumstances will coalesce into minor or major tragedies and will crash against him regardless of what I do. There are deeper hurts waiting for him that cannot be salved by a clean room or diligent planning. My desperation for his good cannot reach past my human limitations.
My mom never convinced me to keep my room clean. She did, however, take me to a little Baptist church one Sunday in June 1997. The gospel was preached, and I was changed. She encouraged me to be serious about my faith, to not just talk about God, but to live for Him. I may still struggle to keep my room clean (apologies to my wife), but this lesson, by God’s grace, has born real fruit in my life. Failure and disappointment has come, loss has shaken me, but I have a refuge in Christ that is eternally strong.
Next time I stand in the rubble of my son’s room, I want to remember that his future is not defined by the growth of his organizational skills, but by his relationship with God. He may one day figure out how to clean up his room, but the condition of his soul will still be messy. He will need something I cannot provide.