College Boy

This past weekend we moved our son into his freshman dorm at college. Our baby boy, our firstborn, is now College Boy, and we’ve found our world changed to an even greater degree than we’d imagined.

Of course we’d been getting ready, or so we thought. We’d been planning for college literally since he was born, and pointing him on this path since he began school. He’s been gone many times before–mission trips, Scout camp–and I thought I was ready for what this would feel like.

I was wrong.

I think what surprised me the most was the size of the hole that’s been left in my heart. The experts say that the most stressful life event is the death of a spouse; having a child move off to college isn’t even on their top ten list. But I can avow that this week has been one of the most heart-wrenching in the last several years. Of course, I love my son; my problem is, I actually like him, too, and I miss having him around. I’ve enjoyed being able to share something with him on the fly. That’s not as possible now.

We got him moved in, and managed to say our goodbyes without drama. Made it out to the car just fine, and even made the four-hour drive home without a problem. But when we got home late at night and I headed upstairs to bed, I saw under his door that he’d left his room light on. Grrr…so I opened the door to turn the light off.

And now I’m in his room. And there on the bed is what was his most beloved stuffed animal since first grade, sitting forlorn, waiting for a little boy who will never return–because he’s all grown up now. That’s when I lost it.

“Behold,” says the one who sits on the throne, “I am making all things new.” And I know this is natural, this is part of the progression of a healthy human being as he separates and starts his own path. But I also know I’m still selfish enough to want one more game of catch, one more Daddy-David Day, one more driving lesson, one more…everything. This is a glorious time, and we do celebrate it. But I’m also selfish enough to mourn what I’m losing, to miss what I don’t have anymore. And so my struggle right now is how to set that aside, and keep my eyes on the promise of renewal and growth that Christ brings. That’s going to be my challenge for the next few weeks.

Is Your Church Declining?

I’ve been through enough ups and downs in different congregations to where I’m getting used to it, which is sad in its own way: Christ’s church is intended always to be moving, growing, taking his word into the world. But alas, there are churches that aren’t.

Thom Rainer has some thoughts on what’s behind a declining church, and it has to do with what’s being made front and center in the congregation. (Hint: it isn’t Jesus.) His excellent article, “The Most Common Factor in Declining Churches,” ought to be required reading not only in ones where attendance and spirits are falling, but in growing ones–lest they make the same mistakes someday. Give a read and let me know what you think.

Becoming Perfect

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

This verse, and John Wesley’s teaching on perfection, is some of what I struggle most with as a Christian. I certainly know I’m not perfect, and from where I sit, I doubt I would ever be able to achieve a state of errorlessness on this side of the veil. Wesley taught that it was possible, to some degree, to achieve perfection in this life:

…that habitual disposition of the soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies being cleansed from sin, ‘from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit’; and, by consequence, being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus; being so ‘renewed in the image of our mind,’ as to be ‘perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect’ ( A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism, p. 12). 

“In this is perfection, and glory, and happiness: the royal law of heaven and earth is this, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ The one perfect good shall be your one ultimate end” (ibid.). Lastly, perfection is “deliverance from inward as well as from outward sin” (ibid., p. 26) and “a Christian is so far perfect as not to commit sin” (ibid., p. 25).

Wesley is right in that it ought to be possible to achieve a “habitual disposition of the soul” towards Christ, and indeed, I know people like that, and I want to become one someday. I also know, though, that those are people who still sin. They are human, after all.

oops

Jesus’ assertion that we are “to be perfect, even as” God is perfect, though, allows for the possibility that this completeness won’t happen on this side of death. And I think that’s OK: we will become perfect, one day, and while we can certainly strive for improvement, even perfection, in this life, it’s important (I believe) to cut ourselves enough slack to recognize our continuing frailty and humanity even after our justification through grace.