Image by Tobyotter via Flickr
Scripture Passage – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Description – Fifth Sermon in the Series “A Faith For and A God Of All Seasons”
(Slide one) Bob Carlisle, “Butterfly Kisses” http://youtu.be/vmC3rJR7E98
Let us hear God’s word this morning as we read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
We return to our summer series text, Ecclesiastes 3 on this Father’s Day Sunday and the focus for today is the latter part of verse 5 that says, “a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”
Now before we take a closer look at this segment in light of today’s holiday, I remind us that we are focusing on this important, challenging, and mysterious Old Testament chapter from the view that we have “A Faith For and A God Of All Seasons.”
The Lord is a God who is not just present during the summer time experiences when life is good and growing. He is with us in the spring when it is time for some cleaning and cultivating for new growth and life to take place. He walks with us in the fall when what we have planted, perhaps years before, is harvested and that harvest is sometimes not what we had expected. And he knows where we are in the depths of winter, which is not necessarily about death but about the hibernation that can result in new dreams and visions coming about.
A healthy and viable faith is one which is grown, refined, and sustained by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit throughout all the seasons of life. A life, and a faith, built on the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor and the Great Commission to go and make disciples, is one that grows and matures in all the seasons of life. And part of those seasons is a time of embracing and a time to refrain from embracing.
This time of year is a time for both embracing and refraining from embracing. It is a time traditionally of graduation and marriage when new chapters are written in young adult lives and another chapter of life comes to a close.
That opening video clip, tear jerker for sure, reminds us dads (and moms, too) that our kids are to be embraced for a season and then it is time to let them go! That is what Genesis 2:24 means, “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”
Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham have written a book, Great Parents, Lousy Lovers, in which Ted says, “I love it when a mom comes up to me at a wedding and says, “I don’t feel like I am losing a daughter today- I feel like I am gaining a son.” My response is blunt and simple, “Nope! You are losing a daughter.”
“That perspective,” he goes onto say, “that one must leave in order to cleave, is the key to launching a young couple into oneness in marriage. Your parents and your kids can chip away at that bond.” The point of what Smalley and Cunningham is saying in their book is that “God did not design us to have kid-centered marriages. Kids grow up and leave. You ans your spouse are united for a lifetime.”
Now maybe you disagree with what they say but how do we respond to Genesis 2:24 and our main text for this morning when it comes to family life?
I suggest this morning, based on Genesis 2:24 and Ecclesiastes 3:5 that (Slide two) “A season of embracing is a season for empowering and enabling our kids to become responsible and maturing adults.”
An often quoted passage about child raising is Proverbs 22:6 which in the King James Version says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
The New International Version says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
The New Living Translation says, “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
Notice the three starting words of each verse, “train,” “start,” and “direct.” They are words which, to me, imply that a parent’s job is to actively get things started because the phrase which follows implies that after a certain point, children are to be on their own.
Train up a child in the way he should go
Start children off on the way they should go
Direct your children onto the right path
I expect my boys to leave home (they can visit once a while and I will fill their kids with sugar and send them on their way!). I expect them to become responsible and caring adults who serve God in their work, as husbands, and fathers. But the choice to do that will be their choice. I can only help get them launched on what I pray is right path for them.
Now is a time of embracing them and empowering them. The day is coming, sooner than I realize, when I will have to release them into God’s hands and let them go.
Some of you have done that. You know the feelings, the concerns, the frustrations, and the pain of letting your kids go. The launches are not always successful and I know that it could happen to me and my kids, too.
But what scripture teaches us about embracing and letting go must still happen.
In his book Empower Your Kids to Become Adults Dr Donald Joy shares some important ways we empower our kids during this time of embracing them toward adulthood.
He notes that kids want to be competent adults. “I will make the case that the natural appetite of childhood is to believe that they can grow up and become exactly like you,” he writes.
Kids, let me tell you something this morning, you will say things to your children that will cause you to stop and ask, “Is my father (or mother) in this house? S/he lives five states away!”
Joy also argues that a key vision of parents is for “kids to become our friends as adults.” “What do you want for your kids?” Joy asks. “Well it is pretty simple: You want them to grow up, to be competent to manage life well, and to leave home as settled and responsible human beings.” The time for embracing is a time for such an agenda to be accomplished.
(Slide three) But then comes time for the season to “refrain from embracing” to take place.
It will be 35 years in August that my parents left me, two states, one time zone, 300 miles, and 6 hours away from where I had grown up at college. It was hard on them and I remember my dad’s voice breaking as he told me that not studying hard would be a waste of our money and the school’s time. Well, I wanted to be there and believed that is where I was supposed to be and I was not going to let them down.
Fast forward nearly four years later.
On a hot July day I remember landing with a mixture of relief and shame back home in Dayton after an unsuccessful launching of a life after college graduation on the east coast. I felt I had let my family down and told them so. Mom thought differently and told me later that she had not slept at all since I moved to the east coast.
Two long months were to pass before I ended up back at the college I had graduated from four months earlier. But it was different. I was not a student this time but a member of the staff. It felt strange to be sleeping in the dorm I had lived as a student knowing that I was now a working adult. And I never moved back home again.
Now not everyone moves hundreds or thousands of miles away from their family to become responsible adults. Some move down the street or across the street. But there comes a time when children need to stand on their own.
(Slide four) What might the season of “refraining from embracing” look like? How do we empower our kids to be on God’s right path for them?
- We accept the change in the nature of our relationship that comes as our kids become adults. Some of us here today are further down the path of parenting because your children are grown and you have even become grandparents. You can tell the rest of us some things we need to know because you have experienced the change in relationship with your children. But you know that it changes. That it must change.
- We help them to learn good decision making skills and allow them to learn from failure. With drivers’ education taking place in several families in this church right now, I am reminded of the story Keith Miller told many years ago on the change in one of his daughters’ thinking as she learned to drive. Familiar roads and places became unfamiliar to her as she had to navigate them from a different perspective, one as a driver. It required her to learn good decision making skills, which are critical for being responsible adults.
- We provide them a significant youth group to help them grow in their commitment to and faith in Christ. I could go on and on about this but there is not time. We have committed, through our current capital funds campaign, to hire a part-time youth director. But we have a great group of teens now and a willing group of parents and other adults to help with leadership and teaching. Our teens lead us in worship each week and they are involved in other ministries throughout the year. This kind of commitment is vital to helping them become adult members of a church in the future. In fact, I am going to suggest that teens who are vitally involved in the ministry of a local church are going to be more likely to stick with a church than those who “just come to youth group.”
- We give new and vital attention to our primary relationship which is our marriage. The “empty nest” is a season of life that for some becomes a vulnerable time in marriage. Some statistics suggest that an increase in divorce begins to take place when the last child moves out. But it is just as devastating to adult children as those who are at home when a divorce occurs. The sense of normalcy many have felt over the years is pulled out from under them. A refreshed marriage can be a vital witness to children, and others, as it demonstrates a continued commitment to a spouse over the long term. The season of child raising is usually shorter (and should be) than a season of marriage.
So where do you find yourself this morning in this season of embracing and letting go?
Some of us here are on the front end of the parenting journey, some of us are in middle, some of us are spread across beginning, middle, and end, and some of us are in the second round of parenting grandkids, and some of us have been done with parenting for a long time. But we are always parents, aren’t we?
But there comes a time when we need to let go and allow our kids to become adults. There comes a time when kids need to let go and become adults.
(Slide five) On this Father’s Day, I pray that we who are parents will find God’s peace and direction in our parenting as we embrace and let go and that we will place both our kids and ourselves in His hands because He knows what is best for all of us. Amen.