What I Learned from My Son’s College Essay

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One of the essay prompts for one of the colleges to which my son applied was, “What would you paint on [in a public space] and why is this your message?” He wrote, “Just listen,” and then he made his case for civility and de-escalation in public discourse. I was so impressed with him that I promptly violated his advice.

Seriously, less than an hour after reading his essay, I was talking with someone and stopped listening. I did not hear what the other person said, and the other person did not seem to hear me. We talked past each other. It went nowhere, and we accomplished nothing.

Psalm 8.1-4, “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

I thought of Psalm 8 because of the famous line, “Out of the mouths of babes.” It implies that young people speak truths that transcend their age. Immediately after the conversation, I knew what I had done. I knew I had not listened. I knew I was wrong and felt repentant.

Psalm 8 juxtaposes beauty and confusion. “How majestic is the Lord!” stands alongside “Out of the mouths of babes.” And, “You established the heavens,” precedes “What are human beings?” Diane Jacobson writes about Psalm 8, “These angels, gods, are mere babes, infants, children. Compared to God, they are tiny. And they are totally dependent.”[i]

As a parent, my spouse and I are the ones who raise our children—along with the village. We are accustomed to leading, guiding, reminding, encouraging, and teaching. It feels a bit surreal to have the proverbial shoe on the other foot. I need to be led, guided, reminded, encouraged, and taught too. After reading my child’s essay and then blundering into my humanity, I need my child (“out of the mouths of babes”). I also need my Lord with the majestic name to set the glory of the heavens above me and be mindful of me and care for me.

The beauty of this world is that both my child and God can help me grow.  

[i] Diane Jacobson, “The inseparability of beauty and truth in biblical poetry,” Word & World 39, no. 1 (Wint 2019): 5.

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