Life is a vapor (Hebrew: hebel). As you have heard many times, this is the pain of Ecclesiastes. Life is a breath on a cold morning, it appears and then is gone (James 4:14). The prime of life, the best part of earthly life, is spent working. There can be a monotony about that. But it occurred to me as I was thinking about being a grandpa and Ashley being a parent, that the prime of life is also spent parenting. Granted, parenting seems much more meaningful than work. We are talking about children, image-bearers, immortal souls, moral beings with minds, hearts, and wills. The prime of life is spent training them in the things of God, teaching them God’s Word, taking them to church, having family worship. The prime of life is spent having talks with them about the important and the not so important things of life.
The hebel of parenting is experienced in two ways. The first is that they grow up so very fast. They are little then they are big. They make little messes and then make bigger messes. It all goes by so fast. It can be downright depressing if you don’t keep perspective. Their lives are a vapor too. What you are experiencing, they will experience too, just like your parents before you. The prime of their life will be spent working and parenting too, and it will be here before you know it. We want them to stay kids forever, but that isn’t how God designed it. Their lives are also a breath on a cold morning. The breath doesn’t last forever, indeed, it is gone before you know it.
The second part of the hebel of parenting relates to what I’ve compared to chapters in a book. The way to ruin the end of one chapter is to try to prolong it instead of preparing for the next. Life is a series of vapors; each vapor is a short chapter in a short book. Try to prevent or delay the end of one chapter and the next one will start without you. That next chapter may start off differently from what you imagined because you didn’t finish the last chapter well. Although you can’t write the script for the next chapter, you can close out the current chapter in a way that you are a welcome part of the story for the next one.
Because life is a vapor, there is another perspective in Ecclesiastes: you can’t get more out of life than it was intended to give. You can’t turn life into an achievement to give you significance, a project to inflate your image or increase your joy. Life under the sun is life, and life is meant to be enjoyed as it races along, trying to suck more out of it than it can give sours it. The same truth applies to parenting. Don’t try to get more out of parenting than was intended. Parenting, in terms of children under your roof and care, is a temporary job. Why did God give us children? Why did He make us parents? Simple, to raise our children to become adults. Adulthood is the goal. If you try to squeeze your child so tightly and live as if they will be at home forever, you will exasperate them and possibly sour your relationship. By the way, they are not ours, they belong to God. God has given them as a fleeting stewardship for you to shape them and prepare them for adult life. They are a gift, not an achievement.
About nine years ago I wrote a very brief blog, “Let Them Follow and Please the Lord for Themselves”. I had heard a sad story about parents who had two daughters, one desperately wanted to go to college and earn a degree. She still wanted to be a wife and a mother, but she wanted to go to school. She believed God was leading her that way, opening doors for her. The parents dug in, “girls shouldn’t go to college.” The tension increased. This wasn’t rebellion, the girl was a solid Christian. The parents would not entertain the idea that God could directly lead their adult daughter. I guess it never occurred to them that they raised her to think for herself, follow God for herself, and make decisions for herself. She went to college. Although I do not reference the story, I concluded that blog with this paragraph:
We raise our kids to follow Christ, to live a life that is pleasing to Him, and then we try to play the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding them. If we have raised them right, we should yield to the Lord’s leading in their lives and not try to control them under some misguided concept of parental authority. If we have raised them right, they will seek our counsel and even the counsel of other godly people. If they are seeking to please the Lord and serve Him, then by all means let them! Do more than that, rejoice! It is sheer grace, not the wisdom of your parenting that brought them to that point.
Parents, keep in mind, parenting is enshrouded in hebel. Our lives are a vapor. Our kids’ lives are a vapor. Our calling and our stewardship are short. Let’s keep the goal in the mind. I say this as one who painfully realizes that my grandkids will grow up faster than my kids did. I say this as one who wants to grandparent in a way that builds into the lives of my grandchildren. Don’t mar the chapters because you didn’t accept the hebel. Don’t sour the relationship because you took your eye off the goal. As they start to spread their wings, rejoice, these are the moments for which you raised them.