Vanity of Vanities and the First Day of School

School started this week, which is bittersweet for most kids and parents. I can remember so vividly the first year all of my kids were in school and I had three mornings a week with no kids! I could grocery shop alone, go on runs or out for coffee with friends, it was pure bliss.
But every year I also cry when I watch my kids get on the bus on the first day. I weep over the passage of time. I can’t believe how big they are getting but I also love that they are excited for school.
It’s funny how many stages there are in parenting—how many ups and downs, how many times you thought one thing and then a few years later you feel just the opposite. We were camping with friends this summer, and one mom who has teenagers said, “I can’t believe how I have gone from being so happy to have the kids out of the house to now begging them to stay home!”
Or on my “first day of school go out for coffee with friends” tradition this year, a friend who sent her oldest to his first day of high school told me with tears in her eyes, “I just watched him go off and I thought, have I paid enough attention? Did I enjoy them enough?” And we all started bawling….
This parenting stuff is “brutiful,” as Glennon Doyle Melton calls life. It is brutal and beautiful all at the same time, all the time–brutiful.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes starts off his book of the Bible by saying, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” He is lamenting the fact that no matter what you do, how hard you work, “what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” [1:9]
I find that oddly comforting as a parent. We all share sending our kids off into new adventures. That is our job. Our job is not to keep them close, but to prepare to send them out. This is nothing new. It has always been a parent’s job. And much as we might like to think we can totally control things, what has been is what will be. Or, the kids are going to do what they are going to do. And we just have to pray that we taught them well.
But Ecclesiastes continues, “he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” [1:18], and that is why I cry on the first day of school.
Did I pay enough attention? My kids are not mine. I know that. They are God’s. This is good. But have I taken enough time to really enjoy them without constantly worrying about all the things I should get done?
I suppose I might like Ecclesiastes because I’m a member of Gen X and we tend to be cynical and in the book the writer seems to find that no matter how hard he works or if he does nothing, it all turns out to be about the same. So he decides you know what, it is just easier not to care. And he tries that. He eats, drinks and is merry. But then what happens is what so often happens in Bible stories and in life, you get comfort in an odd place and you have a change of heart.
In chapter 2, we get those beautiful words about how there is “a time for everything under heaven. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance…” You might have heard those words before. And when I think about this as a mom, I am encouraged. Raising kids brings joy and pain. It is hard and wonderful. Kids are brats and they teach you new things all the time. Parenting is “brutiful.”
But in the end, we can only put our kids in God’s hands. Eccl 12: 13, the second to last verse in the book says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments, this is our duty.” Do you know what I take that to mean? Do your best and then let it go and enjoy because God hears you. God is there for you.
This is my first week of school prayer for my kids, for parents and for all of you. Do your best and then enjoy. God is taking care of you and God is taking care of your kids. And just like life has been “brutiful” for you, it will also be “brutiful” for your kids. But really, would you have it any other way?

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