Working in God’s Presence as a Husband for Forty Years

540088_10154831402005989_4211476311500640539_nForty years!  Holy cow!  How did we get here?

Forty years ago last Sunday, on December 20, 1980, my lovely bride, Linda, and I exchanged vows in our church in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Our pastor prayed that we would become one.  We did, indeed!

Let me clarify that this is not an accomplishment that I should be proud of, as if I did it all by myself.  It takes two to make a marriage work.  Actually, three.  A Christian marriage is a divine partnership.  Linda and I knew could not do this without putting God at the very center of our marriage.  This was expressed in my wedding vows to her, as I quoted Ecclesiastes 4:12, which states that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

I am truly grateful that God, in His mercy, has provided for, protected, and preserved this sacred union.  As the Apostle Paul put it, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

This is another example in my own life of Immanuel labor, the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work.  God was present with me to enable me to do the work He called me to do.

In this article, will share some things I learned about being a husband as I applied what the Scriptures teach about marriage and through many failures and successes of my own along the way.  Four action verbs describe what I did as a husband over four decades: commit, cherish, choose, and celebrate.

Committing to the covenant

Coming from divorced families, my bride and I began with a solid foundation of mutual commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a commitment to a lifelong marriage.   With 50% of marriages in this country ending in divorce and the other 50% ending in death, we have decided on the latter option.

A Christian marriage is more than a social and legal agreement.  It is a holy covenant, established by God to serve the purposes for which He designed it.  You don’t have to look too far to read how God created the first man and the first woman, and what He had in mind for them and all others who follow.

In Gen. 2:24, a verse that Jesus quoted in Matt. 19:4-6 and that Paul quoted in Eph. 5:31, we see God’s permanent design for marriage, that the husband and wife would be one flesh.  This of course ties in with what God said about His greatest creation in Gen. 1:27-28: God created man and woman in His image, as equal partners; their mission was to be fruitful and multiply.

Adam and Eve did not have parents to leave, but every married couple from that point forward would have to leave their family of origin in order to cleave together in order to make a new family in God’s image and their own image.  Jesus stated in Matt. 19:6 that it is God and not man who joins couples together in marriage.

So, as a young man who had asked an important question of this young lady a year and a half prior, “Would you marry me?”, I was committed to her for life.  I wanted to grow old with her, and we have.

Choosing to serve

This next action verb describes how I tried to live out my commitment to my wife on a daily basis.

The deep theological teaching beginning in Eph. 5:25 that the Apostle Paul gives on how marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of Christ and the church contains one simple command to husbands.  Love your wife.  That’s it.  I believe Paul singled out this responsibility because it is the most important thing that our wives need from us.  Also, it is the hardest thing for husbands to do.

The love that Paul talks about here is far from just a romantic feeling I have for my wife, which I do.  It is an unconditional, selfless, constant, and proactive giving of one’s self to meet the needs of the other.  Just as Jesus sacrificially gave of Himself for the church, husbands are to sacrifice for their wives.

Paul also states that we ought to love our wife as we love ourselves, which should remind us of what Jesus said regarding loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.  (See Mark 12:30-31.)  It is not a narcissistic kind of love, but a practical one that we demonstrate every day.  Do we not feed ourselves?  Do we not take care of our own body when it needs something like rest, shade, healing, or cleaning?

So, over the years, it is my best interest to intentionally choose to care for the one that is one with me.

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Cherishing the gift God gave

I cannot remember when it hit me, but the phrase “cherish the gift” has stuck with me for a long time.  In response to God’s abundant provision of His goodness to me in the form of my beautiful, blue-eyed bride, I aim to be a good steward of this undeserved and absolutely amazing gift that keeps on giving.

This cherishing aspect certainly involves serving, which I just discussed above.  However, the way I see it, it involves so much more.  There is an emotional aspect to it.  It is not merely doing practical things for her.  When my heart is involved, I am attentive, not just to her needs but to her.  I pursue my wife in every way I can.  I am eager to spend time together.  I work hard to improve our relationship.

Celebrating our love

Along with my commitment to the marriage and to her, I choose to serve her and cherish God’s gift.  But it is not all work and no play.  There must be times set aside to celebrate this blessed union.

We found many ways to celebrate over the years.  We mark the anniversaries.  Not just the wedding on December 20th, but our dating anniversary on April 1st and our engagement anniversary on June 24th.  We try to do something special on those milestones like the one we just had, where we spent three nights in a cabin in Branson, Missouri, reminiscent of our honeymoon cabin in Estes Park, Colorado.

I am not a perfect husband.  I still have a lot to learn.  But I remain committed to this woman God gave me.  Here’s hoping that in the next decade, we can continue to bring joy to others and glory to God.

Robin_McMurry_Photography_Fort_Leonard_Wood__Missouri_Professional_Imaging_Russ_Gerlein-7161-Edit-EditRussell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 40 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

Cherish the Gift

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Some may think of today as Halloween.  It is, of course.  For me, there is a much more important event to celebrate.  It is my wife’s birthday!  I have been blessed to be able to celebrate every birthday since she turned 18.  Today, she achieved a major milestone.  She is sixty years young.

Last week I decided I would write a reflection from a biblical perspective on the various seasons of life over the 42 years I have known her.  I am grateful that I got to watch her grow in faith and maturity from a single young college student to a faithful girlfriend and fiancée, beautiful young wife, dedicated mother of three, loving preschool teacher, and a wise godly Nana to our four grandchildren.  As I write this article, I want to give glory to God for His precious gift, properly celebrate my wife’s birthday, and encourage others to cherish the gift of their own spouses.

I invite you to join this journey of reflection and celebration with me.

Single young college student

Let me start with 1 Thes. 3:9: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

Paul is expressing gratitude and joy for the members of the church in Thessalonica.  I, too thank God daily for my dear wife!  When I recall our providential first meeting on the Colorado State University Marching Band practice field, I know that God arranged it.  She caught my eye on that September afternoon in 1977 and she still catches it now.  There was joy in my life because of God’s presence (Ps. 16:11), and that joy was multiplied because she was there sharing it with me.  I truly enjoyed being just friends.

Faithful girlfriend and fiancée

Next, we read in James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

When we meet someone that God puts in our path to change our lives forever, this is clearly a “good and perfect gift”.  Receiving a precious gift from the hand of our heavenly Father should cause us to praise Him first and then second, to cherish that gift.  That is what I have been doing ever since I came to realize how much a gift that this lady has been to me from day one of our friendship.  I was glad to see our friendship grow in love and commitment.  Every year, I appreciate her even more.

Beautiful young wife

Another verse that shaped my marriage is Prov. 5:18, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

I have much to rejoice about.  During the three years that we dated before our wedding, I knew that she was the one I would spend the rest of my life with.  We had formed a close friendship, a deep love, and a strong commitment.  It was easy to take it to the next level to become ONE for life.  Over the nearly 39 years we have been married, I have tried to make time with my wife a priority.  She is always in my thoughts.  I look forward to every moment we can be together.  This is one way to cherish God’s gift to me and to the world.

Dedicated mother of three

As I think about the longest chapter of my wife’s life where she focused on our immediate family, Prov. 31:25-29 seems to apply: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’”

This describes my wife well, especially during the 24 years she was a full-time mother raising our three children.  On top of that, she was an Army wife.  I don’t know how she managed it all with my long hours, months of absences (including two one-year tours while I was in Korea), and moving every three years (including overseas) over a 20-year career, but she did, and she did it so splendidly.  She was an amazing mother, who kissed away scraped knees, snuggled our little ones, read to them, looked for teachable moments in the car, fed and clothed everyone well, and was always there for us when we needed her.

Loving preschool teacher

This next Scripture seems to characterize another big phase of her life. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

For 18 years, which ended about six months ago, my wife was a loving teacher of preschoolers.  She was physically designed to blend in with this environment, with her big eyes, warm smile, and short stature.  She was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually gifted, equipped, and called by God into this profession as well.  Her ability to love kids in practical ways through songs, humor, art, instruction, and play time came supernaturally to her.  She directly changed hundreds of children’s’ lives and ministered to their parents and siblings.

Wise godly Nana

Regarding the righteous man or woman, Ps. 92:13-15 states boldly, “Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

This passage was shared with us by some dear elderly sisters in the Lord that we knew in the church we got married in.  Now we are them.  My wife has aged gracefully, and puts her years of experience in loving on children to good use with our four grandchildren.  We were there on day one for each of them.  She has taken advantage of her freedom on several occasions to travel for a short visit, i.e., to help take care of three precious grandkids when our daughter moved last summer and when our son’s  son was sick last month.

The days ahead

As she eases into her 60s and beyond, I see her continuing to be a blessing to so many of us.  She is eager to mentor young military wives and mothers, sharing her wisdom with them.  She is preparing for the next stage of life, whatever it brings, with her faith and hope well-grounded in her Lord and Savior.  I am eager to continue this journey with her until death parts us.  Happy birthday, my love!

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Parenting Transitions (Part 4)

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This is the final installment of a series of four articles I wrote and posted on my personal blog a few years ago, originally posted back in 2010-2011.  I think there is some wisdom here worth sharing again.  Enjoy!  (Click here to read the previous article.)

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I heard a great song on iTunes on the way to work one day this week – Wayne Watson’s, The Class of ’95.  It’s another tear-jerker, no doubt.  The guy wrote some powerful songs that elicit strong emotions, especially for parents, with songs like Watercolor Ponies, Somewhere in the World, and this one.  It made me think once again about the complex process of letting our children go.

Although Linda and I are 2/3 of the way through, we are still trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and how we can best meet our youngest son’s needs as a young adult and the needs of our older son and his sister (plus their spouses) as newly married couples.

I actually heard Wayne perform this song at a 1995 Promise Keepers Conference.  (Not sure where it was, though; I went to three PK conferences that year – Houston, Denver, and Dallas.)  I remember thinking that Melissa was only ten at the time, and was eight years away from her own high school graduation.  How far off it seemed then, and how quickly it became my turn!

Because the title of the song is tied to what I presume to be his son or daughter’s high school graduation, and since it was more than a few years ago, it probably never got the annual radio station airtime that it deserves.  I think the message is timeless.  Here’s the chorus to this song that many of my fellow middle-aged parents of teens and young adults should be able to relate to:

To the Class of ’95

Congratulations are in line

God has surely been most faithful

He’s been so much more than kind

So get ready to test your wings

And fly away but when you do

Remember you are loved

And somebody here is always praying for you

The universal fear (or dread) of parents as their children approach that high school graduation day is the knowledge that their offspring will inevitably test those wings and fly away, when they are truly ready.  We hope that as they do, they will remain close to us and will always remember that they can come home whenever they need to.

For a Christian parent, however, prayer is always going to be an important element in this letting go process.  I tell all of my kids almost every time I talk with them on our weekly phone call that I pray for them every day, and I really do.  I know Linda does, also.  It brings great comfort to believe that God actively cares for them, just as much, if not more, than when they were home under our roof.

The second verse is worth mentioning here as well, as it shares a deep truth that those who haven’t yet experienced it cannot totally grasp:

So this is what I bargained for

Hushed hello and a rushed goodbye

Old folks said I’d be amazed at how

Quickly the time would fly

Even so, I’m thankful that my God saw fit to lend

This child into unworthy hands

Who’s less a child now and more a friend

I’m tearing up, reading these lines now.  Like the songwriter, I too am thankful that God lent Linda and I, for a season, our three precious children into our unworthy hands.  And when I say the word “child”, I too truly understand and accept the fact that they are no longer children in the normal sense of the word, but are fellow adults just like us.  And I am truly amazed to see our adult relationships, yes, even friendships, grow with each one of them as time goes on.

So, how have we been showing love to these dearest of friends lately?

Well, we’ve welcomed both of our married children and their wonderful spouses home for a few days, on separate occasions, this summer.  They came when they could, and stayed as long as they liked.  It was great to see them.  We were impressed with how well they treated each other as new Christian families; separate and distinct, yet connected to and rooted from our own.  We bought a new bed for the newlywed couple, after the son cleaned up his old room during his visit, so that he and his bride and his sister and husband can have their own beds to sleep in if they all happen to come home for the holidays at the same time.

A month ago, we brought our youngest son back for his third year of college, a few weeks early like he wanted, to help him get settled into his off-campus home.  We even made another trip this weekend to bring some stuff he left behind.

The past two weeks, we comforted one after a serious fender-bender, and grieved with them at the total loss of their car.  Most recently, we have rejoiced with recent college and graduate school degree recipients who have just started jobs in their chosen fields that they are passionate about.

So, for my children, I echo Wayne Watson’s heart-felt words for his own precious gift: “Remember you are loved, and somebody here is always praying for you.”

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

How Do Parents Avoid the Extremes of Isolation and Interference?

Biblically Parenting Adult Children

This is the third in a series of four articles I wrote and posted on my personal blog in 2011.  I think there is some wisdom for parents of adult children that is worth sharing again.  (Go here to read the previous article.  Click here for the next article in the series.)

My approach to parenting is based squarely on biblical principles.  Let me summarize the pattern I articulated in my last post.

God brings a man and a woman together to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  Children must learn to obey their parents as well as honor them (Eph. 6:1-3).  As children approach adulthood and develop independence, obedience to parents is no longer required, yet honoring remains (Ex. 20:12).  Then they go off on their own (leaving) to start the cycle over again (cleaving) (Gen. 2:24).

This article deals with more practical application of these principles on how we relate to our adult children after they have left the nest.  It comes down to loving our neighbor, as that is what they become. I invite you to read what I discovered.

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I’ve posted a time or two last fall on my unique perspectives on “letting my children go”, but I still feel that I have lot more to learn, especially as our number two child is about to get married.

I honestly think Linda and I have been more or less successful at that figuring out that process, with almost eight years’ experience since our eldest started college in 2003.  We have watched all three of our little birdies leave the nest and fly off to college.  Two of them have already graduated with bachelor’s degrees, and a little over a week ago, the eldest received her master’s degree.  She also got married last spring, and the middle child gets married in just a few days.  The youngest is now half-way through college. Major milestones!  We are so excited to see what God has been doing in their lives and are so proud of their individual accomplishments.

But now many questions remain in my mind.  How do we as parents maintain a healthy involvement and interest in their lives while they assert their independence?  Where are we most comfortable on the continuum between total isolation on one end and total interference on the other end (both of which are not good)?  How much communication is required to keep in touch?  How much is too much, causing them to cringe every time we text, call, or post something on Facebook?  How much is too little, communicating a lack of care and concern?

There’s a biblical basis to this discussion.  It has become quite clear to me over the past couple of years that the principle of “leaving and cleaving” is so basic to the success of a Christian marriage.  The leaving process starts at birth, literally, and our children continue to leave us, moving from complete dependence to relative independence over the next 18-22 years.  They must leave us, sometime before they get married, and we must let them go.  It’s not easy for any parent, but doing it right is one of the best gifts we can give our children.

Also, as I discussed in detail in a blog I posted in November 2010, we have to get our children to move past the biblical command to “obey your parents”, which is temporary, and only applies to actual children, and to begin to live out the command to “honor your parents”, which is for life, and applies to both children and adults.

Moms and dads naturally are eager to help their children throughout every stage of development; it’s one of the main ways we show love for them.  As they become adults, however, helping them isn’t always very helpful.  We can all recall when we went to tie our children’s shoes or tried to fix their hair at one point, and they told us emphatically, “Let me do it!”  It probably took us by surprise, but it was a good thing, because they were moving towards independence.

When they become young adults, parents still want to help them.  We may remind them of things they said they would do, but haven’t gotten around to yet.  We may want to help them find a car or a job.  (That’s where I am at now.)  Some may even want to help them find a spouse.  (Ours have done just fine without any help from us).  Some parents seem to want to give unsolicited advice.  Not sure all this helping is appropriate or appreciated.

Perhaps the biblical principle of “love your neighbor” should guide us as we relate to our kids as adults.  By telling us to love God and love our neighbor, the two greatest commandments, Jesus specifically meant for us to obey God and properly meet our neighbor’s legitimate needs.  Love is not just an emotion, it is an action.

What do our kids need?  They need us to believe in them.  They need us to trust them.  They need to make mistakes to gain wisdom and experience.  They need to be independent, for us to let them do it.

Rather than telling it like it is all the time, perhaps we can ask them some hard questions to make them think or challenge their thinking.  If they are about to make a really bad decision, we can and should confront them at the proper time and place, just like we would any other adult brother or sister in Christ that may be heading into dangerous territory.  The difference is, we will commit to approach it as one adult to another, no longer as parent to child.

What we always want to do is to be interested in and involved with their lives.  Not so much that we appear to be interfering, but more than enough so that they know we are not through with them.  We don’t ever want them feeling isolated from us or their family of origin.

Marie Barone, the family matriarch in the T.V. show, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, clearly (and humorously) epitomized the interfering approach towards her son and his family.  This was not healthy for anyone.

In contrast, both Linda’s and my parents took the opposite extreme, that of isolation.  I do think that they meant well, but whether they realized it or not, they left the burden of working on any kind of relationship with each of them on our shoulders.  This was extremely challenging at times, since they were divorced and remarried on both sides.  We generally had to take the initiative to call them, plan visits, etc.  They valued independence in us, which did cause us to lean on each other and the Lord.  However, it also communicated that they were greatly relieved of any responsibility for us, financially, emotionally, or otherwise.

Linda and I don’t want to be like that.  We understand that adult relationships are a two-way street.  Both parents and adult children have a responsibility to reach out to the other to maintain the relationship, communicate if boundaries are crossed, and need to be committed to figuring out what works throughout the course of many years and in every season of life to come.

Until next time . . .

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

More Thoughts on Parenting Transitions

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This is the second of four articles on this topic that I originally wrote and posted on my personal blog in 2010-2011.  (Go here to read the previous article.  Click here for the next article in the series.)

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There was some spirited discussion on the topic of parent-child relationships a few days ago in my adult Sunday School class.  It seemed like a harmless comment.  I didn’t mean to be controversial; it wasn’t like our recent study on the Five Points of Calvinism, or anything close to that.  I merely stated what was obvious to me that the command found in Eph. 6:1 (and Col. 3:20), given to children to obey their parents.  It was not addressed to and did not apply to adult children, but only to actual children.

Let me try to elaborate on what I was thinking, and then share a little more of our adult children releasing adventures over the past several years that I discussed a bit in my post on September 9th.

Marvin Lubenow, the pastor who married Linda and I almost 30 years ago, taught me a simple principle regarding interpreting Scripture.  He said, “If the plain sense makes sense, any other sense is nonsense.”  I’ve used that nugget of wisdom so many times, and it really applies to this passage in Ephesians.

When the original readers read Paul’s letter, they would have thought that it meant the same then as we do now.  They most likely would not have read into it, “adult children”, meaning anyone who is married or otherwise, is living independently, and has left their childhood and adolescence behind.

I even looked it up in the Greek, which I rarely do.  The word used here, techna, does in fact mean “children” in the natural sense.  Let me say this in a different way.  This command pertains to kids, rugrats, punkinheads, bambinos, etc.  Paul did not use the words “son” or “daughter”, which obviously would apply to all.

I also wish to point out that Paul himself, in another letter, refers to his own adult development that is well worth mentioning.  I am surprised I didn’t think of it before.  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11.)  I do not think he thought of himself as a child any more, and I cannot imagine him thinking he still needed to obey his parents either.

Surely, all of us are or were someone’s child, in a limited sense.  However, this command is clearly directed towards actual children, to those not fully grown.

For example, it would be an incorrect interpretation to read into it and conclude that this biblical command should apply to a normal 60-year old woman and her 85-year old mother.  Paul (and the Lord) could not possibly have meant it to be understood in this way.  This daughter is not required to continue to obey her mother for life, regardless of whether or not they live under the same roof.  For her mother to expect total obedience from her daughter would be ludicrous, and it would indicate a rather unhealthy relationship between two mature adults.

It is clear to me that this command for children to obey their parents is a temporary command, based on the reality of human development.  All children (under normal circumstances) eventually become adults.  The next command in verses 2 and 3, to honor one’s parents, was addressed to children also, but it clearly applies to both children and adults.  It is an enduring and lifelong command, based on the fact that it originated in the Ten Commandments (see Ex. 20:12.)

The point I was trying to make is that parents need to change their expectations and take the lead in getting their children to move towards honoring them rather than obeying them as they transition into young adulthood.

However, at what age does this transition take place?  Who gets to decide?  The parent, reluctant to let go?  The eager child, ready to spread his or her wings?  Linda asked me, “Doesn’t it vary with culture?”  Good question!  I think so.  More importantly, how do parents get their children to the point where they are no longer considered children in the true sense of the word?

The process is tricky.  If you release them before they are ready, they may not have the skills they need to thrive in the wilderness of adulthood.  If you hang on to them too long, you either stifle their development towards independence and they may never leave the nest, or they break away abruptly with bad feelings between you and them that can take years to heal.

I’m not sure I have all the answers, but I think I may have some ideas.  Let me share some of the things we did to get our three offspring to the point where they are now, with one newly married, one getting married next year, and the other about 3/8 of the way through college.

I think that it was a gradual but intentional process that started quite naturally when they were learning to drive.  You have to admit that letting your son or daughter take your family car or van on the road is a pretty hefty adult responsibility.  I truly enjoyed teaching each of them to drive, and somehow they learned all the rules, mastered the necessary large motor skills (no pun intended), and developed the mental abilities to make quick and safe decisions.  When they were ready, they took their tests and were given the right to go out on their own, under certain restrictions.  As they became better drivers and demonstrated more responsibility over time, they earned the privilege of having some freedom.

The next major opportunity to prepare them for independent and responsible living was in choosing a college.  I aggressively conducted a vast amount of internet research for each one of them.  My goal was two-fold: to help them discover the right school for them to best fit their own heart’s desires, and to unravel the big financial aid ball of yarn to help them get there.  I had my preferences, which I made known, but when it came time to narrow down their options, select a few schools to visit, fill out college applications, apply for scholarships, and make a final decision to choose one school to attend, each did it quite well, because that was what was expected of them.

So, exactly when did they leave childhood and become young adults?  I think that it happened gradually over a period of a few months during that first year of college.  Linda and I began to see subtle changes that included steady intellectual growth, increasing spiritual maturity, and a new level of confidence that developed each year they were away.  We enjoyed deep adult conversations with them face to face and on the phone about how they chose to handle a variety of personal challenges, and that pattern continued to improve over time.  Now that each of them in their own way have made a series of good decisions about their future, we feel a strong sense of peace.

I’m thinking that they all thought of themselves as adults and we did as well at almost the same time.  Impossible to say which came first, but I humbly submit that people often live up to the expectations of others; children will often act as mature as we treat them.  When you start treating them and talking to them as an adult, asking them hard questions rather than telling it like it is, I think they adapt a little quicker to that role.  At least that philosophy seems to have worked for us, only by the grace of God.

I do not want to make it sound like it was a seamless transition over the past ten years as each of my children moved from adolescence to young adulthood.  There were definitely some bumps in the road along the way.  I made a lot of mistakes when they were younger that negatively impacted my relationships with them later on.

I know I was not a perfect parent and I still have a lot left to learn.  Linda and I were making it up as we went, and we adjusted to these major changes in different ways.  It is often more difficult for fathers to let their daughters go; the same goes for mothers and their sons.  But it became easier in some respects as we were forced to let each one grow, move on to bigger and better things, and discover God’s plan for their lives.

Our daughter had been on her own for nearly three years when a huge transition occurred last March.  I had to do what every daddy dreads, as I walked our daughter down the aisle of a church and literally handed her over to a young man who was to become my son-in-law.  Our role as her involved but not interfering parents is still being shaped as we speak.  I do know that it was a significant emotional event for me.  I completely identified with the country song I heard for the first time last year that goes something like this:

I loved her first

I held her first

And a place in my heart will always be hers

From the first breath she breathed

When she first smiled at me

I knew the love of a father runs deep

And I prayed that she’d find you some day

But it’s still hard to give her away

I loved her first

As for her brothers, we are not quite done raising them yet.  Andrew has got a few years left before our roles change radically, but he’s coming along just fine.  Our days are numbered for Brian, who is getting married in June.  He’ll be ready to leave and cleave, just as the Scripture says, and we’ll lose a son but gain a daughter.

We praise God for all of the victories, and continue to pray and work through the many challenges that lie ahead. We still need His wisdom, provided abundantly through His Word, His Spirit, and His people.

P.S. Even though I rejoice in the current independent state of my maturing adult children and their continued transitions towards that end, we still very much miss having them around.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

God’s Faithfulness Through the Generations

Grandpa Russ
My Grandfather, Russell E. McKenna

There was a country song recorded about eight years ago by Brad Paisley called “Two People Fell in Love”.  He points out the obvious – that every one of us owes our very existence to the simple fact that at one moment in time two people fell in love.  He describes a family reunion where members from five generations came in from 15 different states to have a picnic every June, all because 60 years ago Stanley Wilson knew that Ms. Emma Tucker was the one for him.

I mention this because I have recently embarked on a journey, not unlike one that many others have taken, to discover my roots.

Two days ago, my son and wife were looking at the family tree information that my wife had collected a number of years ago.  Her family has done a much better job about that than mine.  I went to the internet to find some tools to help me build our family tree, and discovered MyHeritage.com.  Fairly quickly I was able to begin to create a database where I could log in what I already knew, in hopes that I could find much more information about our roots.  I was impressed by this site.  After spending several hours Friday night on this project (and paying a small annual fee), I was able to place over 270 people on our family tree with great detail.  I was also able to locate several supporting historical documents such as actual census reports from 1940 and earlier and two high school yearbook photos of my mom.

To borrow a phrase that comes up often from one of our key leaders at work, “This is all mildly interesting.”  However, I do not want anyone to miss the point, which was hinted at in the title of this article.  God’s mighty hand of protection and blessing is all over the Gehrlein family tree.

The faithfulness of God is something I hold very dear.  My favorite old hymn, which they had better sing at my funeral, is “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.  This key attribute of God is clearly revealed and illustrated often in Scripture and in the life of His Son Jesus.  Psalm 36:5 link God’s love and faithfulness together: “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

God’s faithfulness is also tied to His sovereignty.  Since God is ultimately in control of His plans for His people, in spite of their apparent freedom of choice (yes, I am a Calvinist), He is able to control the very circumstances that led to our creation through two imperfect people who fell in love.  The way I see it, God ensured that these ancestors in our family tree did what they were supposed to do so that we as His children now could do the things we are called to do.

Let me close with another appropriate verse from Psalm 100:5: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Praise be to God for His faithfulness to His children!

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.