Letter to My College-Bound Son

Dear Riley,

Though this is not the first letter I’ve written to you, this is the first letter I’ve ever written to my son who is leaving home for greater adventures. You’ve always been an Adventurer – full of curiosity, passion, and an incomprehensible cheerfulness about getting up at o’dark thirty. God knows I’ve tried to manage your adventures, and sometimes I suppose I’ve been a hindrance and an obstacle. Someone once said that having children was like choosing to live the rest of your life with your heart beating outside of your body. We mothers are very vulnerable and perhaps we act at times out of a ferocious need to protect. But I will manage your adventures no more! (Unless you need money for them… ha!)

It is tempting – once the mother-eye is distant – to choose the riskiest adventures you can concoct. Remember the Prodigal Son? Off he runs into imagined bliss. The possibilities were limitless. No obligations, no call for effort, no boundaries. Just good times. And then — loneliness, desperation, emptiness, and longing. I just have to ask: Where was that boy’s mother??

But even in that story, the first step toward home that the boy took was the first step out the front door. His adventures finally brought him to the point where he “came to his senses.” At his lowest point, he found his true self.

I think one thing that impresses me most about you is that you seem to already have a really good handle on your true self. You’ve been a very self-aware child, from your earliest years. As you have grown in faith and in grace, your awareness has been shaped by Christ’s call on your life. “Draw our hearts to you…”

When I thought about what to write to you, I remembered a strange little phrase in a book I once read. The book is called Markings and it was written by Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary-General of the United Nations back in the 1950s. Markings is a book of his private reflections, just notes and thoughts and poems about his life, his work, and his faith in Christ. On September 26, 1957, he wrote this:

“Long ago, you gripped me, Slinger. Now into the storm. Now towards your target.”

God is the Slinger, and He has gripped you with love, and He’s aiming you at His target. He’s flinging you into new places of learning, friendship, exploration, and yes adventure. He’s launching you into late-night conversations, concerts in Chicago, long runs through leaf-laden streets, library quiet, and dorm-room chaos. He’s launching you into physics and theology and calculus; He’s flinging you into new visions of a globalized world that will never be the same because Riley is in it. He’s launching you into a lifetime of working to free people from the tangled, twisted ropes that bind them with poverty and pain – like the goat in that Brazilian slum yard. There will almost certainly be storms. But His aim is true, your destiny sure.

Hammarskjold knew this. He knew the Slinger’s grip was trustworthy. “We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart. . . . Don’t worry about this or anything else, but follow the Way of which you are aware, even when you have departed from it. ‘Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.’”

I have no worries about you . . . and I am full of worry. No fears . . . and full of fear. That’s my prerogative; I’m your mom; get over it. But bundle of contradictions though I am, know this: I let you go with confidence, with joy, and with great anticipation of reading the story of The Life of Riley.

All my love,

Me

About K. Mulhern

Kathleen Mulhern teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Denver Seminary, Colorado School of Mines, and Regis University. She particularly focuses on the historical roots of the political, economic, religious, and cultural systems that have contributed to contemporary society.

  • LuAnn Wilhelm

    Just read the note to the son. sniff sigh get another dam tissue… If I may I will borrow some of these shared and common momisms with my own beloved son who is on his own journey ( it may be the 6 yr way to a bachelors and then yet still on to the graduate degree) . So hard to let go of that heart that beats outside the body dam that eve she will get such a slap especially for the menopause curse.


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