It hardly required a thought; it was more an impulse. I grasped the upper arm of my adult daughter, stopped her, and led her backward a step.
We had been in the midst of fevered conversation as only a parent and usually-away-at-college child can be. We walked through an H-E-B parking lot where even at night people zip and zag. The bright white backup lights of a large SUV came on as we approached its rear bumper.
Earlier in the day, a friend had asked prayer for a young woman run over by a SUV backing up in a parking lot.
A parent takes a lifetime of learning and continued learning and turns it into care for a child. In this case, an email prayer request turned into parental care when I took my daughter’s arm and led her backward.
Thirty-five years ago, I became a parent. I read books on parenting before becoming one, but my main source of preparation had been the examples of my own parents. Trese, my wife, brought a different set of experiences to the process to double our preparation as a couple.
Parenthood had been the primary life goal for each of us. We jumped in. And once you jump in, you stay in, even when your “child” is an adult fully capable of taking care of herself or himself.
The thing I miss most about the early years is the ability to hold a child fully within my arms, close to my chest, snuggled up tight. The holding, over time, becomes less complete, less all encompassing.
Some parents have trouble letting go. They’re called helicopter parents by college officials. But it’s best to let go. We let go gradually through the years, it being an almost imperceptible change.
Then one day you are reaching out to take your daughter’s arm in a parking lot. You wouldn’t have to reach out if she were still a child, but she’s not, and that is good. She can walk and run and work and play on our own. She doesn’t need you like before, but she still can benefit from your presence, your care, your watchfulness.
And then a day will come when she reaches out to take your arm and draw you away from danger and trouble and suffering. And there may even come a day when she holds you close, just like you did her decades before.
Parenting is such a loving process of care and being cared for. If you’re not a parent, you can be there for others and they can be there for you. There are plenty of people who need hugs and hand-holding and shoulders to lean upon.
Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us so God could touch us, literally touch us. And now we can be Jesus to others. And today I am especially grateful that my children, who are no longer children, are in my life to embody the love and care and touch of Jesus.
(This post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.)