Are you sensing relief? Is this finally the beginning of the end? As I am writing this, finals week and commencement are just around the corner. This most unusual and unusually stressful academic year is coming to a close. We started an uncertain fall semester with mostly face-to-face classes and stayed the course in a year that many campuses shut down entirely. Students have almost met their goals for the year. The trees and flower beds on campus are bursting with new growth. It feels like we are finally nearing the finish line.
However, I am reminded how easy it is to let our guard down before we reach our goals. Even as all the signs of hopefulness are here, new cases of the COVID variant are outpacing vaccination efforts before we have reached the goal of herd immunity. India is the current canary in the coal mine demonstrating that we are still in a world crisis with global neighbors in desperate need. How many times have we seen a major turn-around in an athletic stand-off when the favored team gets a little too confident and lets their guard down long enough for the underdog to snatch a come-from-behind win? How many of us have seen a leader we respected and admired fall to an ethical compromise and take his or her strong legacy down with them? Would we ever consider remission from cancer enough to quit monitoring our health? We certainly need to celebrate the victories but we must also stay vigilant because a good start does not guarantee a good finish.
I am reminded of King Solomon’s example for us in Scripture. When King David was near death, he admonished his son, Solomon to “Observe what the Lord your God requires. Walk in obedience to Him, and keep His decrees…do this so that you may prosper in all you do…and so the Lord may keep His promise to me…never to fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel” (I Kings 2: 3-4). Solomon began his reign with a heart submitted to the sovereign God. In his early days as king, God told him in a dream to ask for whatever he wanted the Lord to give to him. At that time, a humble Solomon asked God for a discerning heart so that he might judge wisely and rule justly. He knew his own limitations and his dependence on the Lord.
However, Solomon’s promising start did not guarantee an honorable finish. Solomon established an alliance with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, taking Pharaoh’s daughter as his wife. Despite the Lord’s warning about marrying outside the faith, Solomon continued adding wives who brought him under the influence of other religions that turned his heart away from his commitment to serve only the one true God. As a result, the Lord took the kingdom out of Solomon’s hands, leaving him with a single tribe at the end of his rule, and only for the sake of David.
Our support system is critical in our ability to stay faithful to our commitments. The people Solomon surrounded himself with had everything to do with his inability to stay faithful and focused. We get a very different picture in Exodus 17, where Moses commanded Joshua to lead the charge against the attacking Amalekites. The elder Moses stood watch at the top of the hill, arms raised, with the staff of God in his hands. As long as Moses held his hands high, the Israelites kept their advantage, but when he lowered his arms, the protection for the army dropped with them and the Amalekites took the lead. Fortunately, Moses faced adversity with the help of supportive friends—literally. Scripture tells us that when Moses’ grew weary, “Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (Exodus 17:12). What would have happened if he didn’t have the care of like-minded friends? Moses, as great as he was, needed even the literal support of his community of faith to hold it all together in the midst of great challenges from start to finish.
UNW offers the kind of grounded teaching, solid friends, and strong faith community that helps our students stay the course in the midst of great challenges. Perhaps this has been a successful year at Northwestern partly because we have faced adversity in an environment surrounded by the support—and accountability—of other believers. Realistically, the separation from that community is its own kind of risk. Whether their departure is for a summer or for their launch into their post-graduation lives, this finish line is not yet the end of the road and the next stretch comes with a separation from those key supports.
While we may be relieved to be close to a milestone for our students, this is not the time to let down our guard for them. While our parenting role changes for our adult children, we can still be a part of the ongoing support and accountability that helps them to stay “steady till sunset.” Here are some actions we can take on their behalf:
KEEP PRAYING FOR OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS
• Prayer FOR our kids does not require their permission—just our commitment. What routine would you like to establish for yourself?
• Prayer WITH adult children is still possible. Have you thought about asking them if you can pray with them? What might work for them? My daughter responds to an offer of prayer with a “Yes, PLEASE,” even over the phone. My son is a “No, thanks” guy but he has gotten so used to me asking that his response now is, “But you two can pray for me after I’m out of earshot.” Just the asking lets them know our intention to intercede for them.
KEEP ENCOURAGING THEM IN THEIR FAITH WALK
• Staying in the Word is critical, but seeing it modeled in our lives is far more powerful than reminding them what they need to do. As you allow the Lord to speak to you through scripture, share what you are learning. Your enthusiasm is contagious. Invitation can also be a gentle form of encouragement. Would your son or daughter be open to joining you in a Bible study? How about inviting them to memorize a passage together and hold YOU accountable?
• Staying in Christian Community is essential. Share the value of staying in touch with forever friends. Ask what their plans are for staying connected with their faith community from UNW. If you have the ability to host, offer to help them plan a summer reunion. New friends in fellowship can also be a part of establishing a faith community after graduation. Ask open ended questions about a plan for worship and fellowship that meets their needs. Be ready to be supportive as long as the plan is sound, it doesn’t need to be what you would choose.
DON’T ASSUME THEY ARE DOING WELL
• Practice asking instead of telling. It’s very possible that exhaustion or anxiety is outpacing your student’s energy or motivation. The last year has been especially hard on our young adults trying to launch. However, I can guarantee that announcing “I’m worried about how sad you seem,” or “I can’t believe you want to buy a new car when you have school debt hanging over your head,” is more likely to make things worse than better. Try opening the door to safe sharing instead by practicing asking instead of telling. An open-ended “Tell me about what it feels like to be at this point in the journey,” or “Tell me what you are thinking about finances as you are making plans,” invites their feelings instead of imposing your own.
• Remember that reaching out for help is an adult skill your student is still mastering. Parenting young adults requires different skills for us, too. To be an effective part of their community of support, we need to learn the art of offering. Aaron and Hur didn’t wait for Moses to ask for their help or offer a commentary on his inability to hold up the staff on his own. They just saw a need and found a way to help without taking Moses’ responsibility away from him. Instead of unsolicited advice like “I think you should have more interviews by now,” how about offering practical help with, “It seems like looking for work is its own full time job. I’d be happy to help with research and networking leads if that frees up time for you for cover letters and interview prep.” Our students still hold the responsibility for their futures, but it’s easier for them to receive our steady hand of support than accept our unsolicited advice from the sidelines.
Our ongoing role as part of our student’s support team and faith community will continue to be a part of their ability to stay the course in transition. After this tough year where we stayed the course and reached the goal line, let’s celebrate the victory with them but remain vigilant on behalf of our students. As they walk away from the support and accountability of their Christian community at UNW for the summer or post commencement, our continued encouragement through prayer, fellowship, and practical helps can still be a critical part of turning today’s successful start into a steady-till-sunset experience.