Two days ago I sat in my car in the parking lot of the local nursery. It was cold and gray out. The plastic of the greenhouse flapped noisily in the wind, making me grateful for the warm rush of heat that blew from the dashboard vents as the engine idled.
I was waiting for my son, Noah, who was inside the greenhouse having his first-ever job interview. We’d prepped the night before. My husband had asked Noah some mock questions, and we’d reviewed the basics of Interviewing 101: firm handshake, maintain eye contact, speak audibly, show enthusiasm. That morning Noah had carefully chosen his outfit, a pair of kakis and a navy blue polo shirt.
Brad and I had done what we could to help him prepare, and now I watched from the car as Noah walked through the front entrance of the nursery, the glass door closing behind him.
Truth be told, I wanted badly to run after him, push ahead, and convince the manager of Noah’s attributes myself. I wanted to tell him that everything I know about plants, flowers and trees Noah had taught me before he even knew how to tie his own shoes. I wanted to explain that sure, my son was shy, soft-spoken, but he was a hard worker, committed, responsible and smart. I wanted to declare that the greenhouse wouldn’t find a more qualified teenager for the job than this quiet boy with the too-long shoelaces and the neatly gelled hair.
Of course, I didn’t do any of that. I stayed in the car, where I sat quietly, nervously hoping for a good outcome, marveling over the fact that my son, who it seemed just moments ago was toddling around the backyard thrusting his nose deep into the tulips, was somehow, inexplicably, now old enough to interview for a part-time job.
Parenting babies and young children is busy. There’s a lot of movement and doing, a lot of action – changing diapers, spoon feeding pureed pears, towel drying dimpled skin and wispy hair, turning the stiff, cardboard pages of Goodnight Moon, picking up Legos, picking up Legos, picking up Legos.
And then, at some point, almost without our noticing, the physicality of parenting begins to ebb. Suddenly we are much stiller. We find ourselves doing a lot of waiting (punctuated by a lot of shuttling to and from various activities). We wait in the orthodontist’s office for the metal wires to be tightened. We wait at the soccer field as the coach gives his pep talk for tomorrow’s game, dusk creeping along the edges of the tree line. We wait to hear whether it will be a spot on the varsity team, a role in the musical, a ‘yes’ to the Homecoming dance, a college acceptance letter, a job offer.
As parents of teenagers, we prepare, we advise, we guide, and then we do the hardest thing: we let go. We step back into the shadows. We stay in the car. We sit on the sidelines. We wait. We are still with our teenaged children, of course, but we are with them in a different way.
Is this, I wonder, a little bit what it’s like for God? How easy it would be for our Father to push ahead through the doors of the greenhouse — to intervene, to fix it, to snap his fingers, to bring about the results we so desire. Instead, he lets us go our own way. He allows us to fumble, to fail, to make mistakes, to make the wrong choices. He allows us to achieve, to succeed, to prevail, to triumph. God is still present with us, but at the same time, he allows us to step out on our own accord while he waits for us on the other side, no matter the outcome.
When I saw Noah emerge from the greenhouse with a sheaf of paperwork in his hands, I knew it was good news. “Well?” I asked expectantly, as he slid into the front seat. “I have to go to an orientation, so does that mean I got the job?” he asked. “Yes, it means you got the job,” I laughed, feeling a mix of relief and pride and a twinge of something like sadness rise in my chest as I looked at the young man with the too-long shoelaces next to me, the boy who always stopped to smell the blooms.
I often want the kind of God who will just do it all for me. Fix it, Jesus! I implore. Make it all better! Make it happen exactly the way I want it to! And sometimes God does fix it the way I’d hoped. He heals. He blesses. He forgives. He brings justice and shows mercy.
Mostly, though, it seems, at least in my experience, that God is a lot like the parent of a teenager. He lets us go, though he is still very much with us, and then he waits with open arms for our return.