I've just dropped my little boy at the airport. He's 18 and he's off to Australia for 6 months, to live and work with a friend of ours who is a pastor. It seems an extreme measure to escape a father who can't resist the temptation to comment on his table manners at most meals.
I was pretty certain that I wasn't sad about him going. I was more worried about how much parking costs at Gatwick. I'm sure you can fly to Majorca for less than £12!
After the pain of parking, my next overriding emotion was fear. I don't go to airports often. They're an alien environment to me. They're weird. It's made worse by the way everyone else seems to know what they're doing, They are clearly looking right through my confident exterior into my nerve wracked incompetence and are laughing at the airport new boy! I made a mental note that coming into a church service for the first time must be a terrifying experience.
Once he was checked in we sat down for a coffee and some manly chat. This involves prolonged silences, interspersed with stating the obvious. I took the opportunity to tell him how I wasn't sad about him going, like his mother was. I was a much more rational being. As long as he was happy, I was happy. When he was sad, I was sad. Like the time he was bullied at school, when I had to be restrained from going in and punching a few 12 year olds (I know this is wrong! More gorilla than godly father.) But I knew that he'd have a great time in Australia, so I was happy.
Coffee over, when went in search of entertainment. He'd optimistically only packed a short book of comic anecdotes and a Bible for the 24 hour flight. I was impressed by his godliness. But I'm a realist, so we purchased him an airport novel.
Then it was off to security. A hug and a kiss. (I always hug and kiss my sons, having been a teenager who never knew how to greet and say goodbye to his dad.) This was followed by the final ritual of throwing away the toothpaste in his hand luggage because it was over 100ml. Pity the poor person sitting next to him. Then he was gone.
As I looked at his back, disappearing into a maze of barriers and security checks, it happened. I felt the deep pain of separation. My guts began to twist. The tears welled up in my eyes. And I was deeply sad.
There was no conscious thinking through what I'd miss. There was no fear for his future. But somehow, somewhere within myself I knew that separation from someone you love is sad. And so, without a thought for how my conscious self might feel at weeping in the middle of airport security, my subconscious self kicked into emotional overdrive.
People say absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is some truth in that. But I think the reality is that absence means you forget all the ways that your beloved winds you up! You develop an unrealistic, sin free, picture of them in your mind, which in my experience you and they manage to shatter pretty soon after you are together again (contra Hollywood!).
Absence in the Bible is not a good thing. Presence is infinitely preferable. Because it is in presence that we enjoy relationship. In the presence of those who we love and who love us. Most of all in the presence of the God who loves us. That's why one of the best promises that you'll find in the scriptures is:
Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing. No nothing. Not even we, ourselves. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The love poured into our hearts by His Spirit. The love that goes with us everywhere. The love of a Father who gave His Son to make us His children.
Because I love my son very much I sent him a final, moving, message to convey my feelings:
DON'T LOSE YOUR PASSPORT! Love Daddy xxx