Perhaps one man, I never met, that had the biggest impact on me was Bob Benson – of the Benson Music Company family. As a high school student I attended two different conferences led by Bob and was blessed to hear him speak in person. Later, I found his books and have been particularly impacted by a collection of his writings put together by his son, Robert Benson (after his dad died) called, “See You at the House.”
I never had the pleasure of meeting Bob Benson, but I did meet his son, Robert, last year, and I wouldn’t let him leave until he signed the book he compiled of his Dad’s stories… and I’m looking at the book even as I type these words.
If you let my worn copy of the book fall open, it will open to page 32 and my favorite entry – Parental Math. I’ve read it a thousand times. In it, Bob recounts the experience of taking his son, Mike, to college. And in classic Bob Benson style, he relates the experience of moving a son off to college to the awesome love our heavenly Father has for us. I still cry every time I read it!
Last week, we moved our youngest son to Liberty University. Bob’s essay was running through my mind the whole time. So, with due acknowledgement to the profundity of his original essay, here’s my version:
Tuesday Night – John slept in his room and Teresa and I were in ours. Except for a few boxes and a couple of packed up suitcases, it seemed just like any other night watching the Atlanta Braves play on television.
Wednesday Night – We drove all day and arrived at the Hampton Inn, Lynchburg, Virginia – room 417. We had two queen-sized beds and a lot of fun laughing and enjoying being together… we even tried to sleep a little!
Thursday Night – Teresa and I were in Lexington, Virginia (about an hour from Liberty) in a nice bed and breakfast, while John was in Room 214 at Liberty University.
Friday Night – We were well on our way back to Tennessee, and John was still in Room 214.
With a move into the smaller house we are building just around the corner from where we used to live, the start up of children’s choirs at church, and the crazy routine of LifeWay Worship, Teresa and I still have plenty of things to do and places to go. And the joys we share with our other two children and their spouses always make life seem full of joy and right. We will still have plenty of everything – except John.
In parental math: Plenty minus One equals Not Enough.
In Bob’s original writings, he relates the deep sense of longing by a parent for a son, to the deep desire of our heavenly Father to have intimacy with us. It’s a powerful picture.
But I want to add a further application… the reality that John’s world does not, and should not, revolve around us. He was not sent here to this earth to complete our experience. And for that matter, our world cannot revolve around him either – or even each other.
The only parental math that really matters: One plus One equals One.
One God desiring a relationship with one person, and that union produces oneness with our Sovereign – Himself, a Trinity that is One.
God desires a personal relationship with each one of us. And no one can take our place at His table. The equation He designed for John is one that enables John’s development as a person and as a disciple to draw him closer and closer to Jesus. And our experience of an empty nest draws us closer to each other, but ultimately, and individually, closer to the only relationship that will satisfy our deepest need – our relationship with Jesus.
So, to John I would say, “Soar as you enter into this season of your life! We celebrate the person you have become and express gratitude to God for the privilege we have had to be a part of your story.”
But I also celebrate my God – who loves me so much that He will do anything and use every experience in life to show me who He is. I can move through the paces of aging parents and grown up children with the hope that, in the end, we will all be one with Him.
And in God’s parental math: One is the only number that matters.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.