A few months ago, my husband and I helped our son C.J. transition into college. We are missionaries who live and work in Indonesia, so C.J. was leaving behind the country that had become his home. After a brisk summer whirlwind of traveling and helping C.J. check everything off his to do list, we landed in Lynchburg, Virginia, in a totally new environment to all of us. Our family is from the West Coast, but God had opened the door for C.J. to attend Liberty University on the East Coast. We were helping him settle into his new life, and then we would fly back to San Diego and stay until January, looking forward to C.J. coming out at Christmas. At least we would see him one last time before returning to Indonesia – without him. I know that will be very hard.
Since we left C.J. in Virginia, I have been grieving. My heart is wrestling with letting him go. A friend of mine said she had felt like she had to “wean” herself from her kids when they left home. I could definitely identify with that analogy. I was feeling an underlying sense of depression and despair. One day, as I acutely felt the painful mix of emotions, I began to dialogue with the Lord. “Lord, I’m not sure all that I’m feeling right now, but would you please show me what is in my heart?”
As I dropped our second son Ryan off at school and then headed to the neighboring town in the morning sunshine, I felt waves of anger rolling over me, crashing and churning on the inside. My soul was hotly brewing, percolating with frustration. I sighed deeply, “All right, Lord, I think I am mad.” (You would think that revelation would be obvious, but sometimes it takes me a while) And then the reason came more sharply into focus – “mad at You.” I hate realizing I’m mad at God, but I’ve been there enough times to know that it is best to honestly admit it to the Lord. “I’m mad at you for taking C.J. away!” Suddenly the truth came out, and as I confessed it, the hot tears began to splash down my face.
And then, suddenly and clearly, the Lord interrupted my crying. “He’s not yours,” came the simple reply. The directness of the words caught my attention. The tone wasn’t unkind, but it was direct.
“Okay,” I responded in my mind, beginning to ponder that thought.
“He’s mine,” the Lord continued. All of a sudden, I recognized the feeling I was experiencing as self-centeredly holding on to my child, just as I had done with our daughter Hannah when she became sick with a brain tumor in 2002. The Lord literally had to pry my fingers off of her life as I finally came to realize that her life wasn’t mine to hold onto. And He took her home to heaven.
“I thought I’d learned that lesson, Lord,” I quipped back, “but apparently I need a reminder.” And the beauty and freedom of truly believing that my child belonged to the Lord loomed larger before me. Yes, that meant I had to let him go, I had to release my grip on having him with me, but it meant that C.J. was free to live his own life, to learn and to grow, and most of all, to truly begin to experience his own relationship with the Lord. The day in and day out trusting that is birthed by daily rubbing shoulders with God, allowing God to help him through each new challenge.
That didn’t seem like such a bad thing. In fact, it sounded like the best thing for C.J., and I was reminded that more than my own comfort, parenting is about love. True love desires and seeks the best for its object – not for itself. And I was reminded anew that true love usually requires sacrifice. Ouch. That’s not something I like to do much on my own. I can only do it through the strength that God’s Spirit gives.
So, how are you doing with letting go of your kids? If you are a mom with young children, you could start now by meditating on the truth that your children truly belong to the Lord. I don’t think I practiced believing this until I was forcibly reminded that they are not mine. But, with C.J.’s brother, Ryan, I am trying to remind myself more often that Ryan belongs to the Lord – that I don’t have ownership of him, just stewardship. And that makes me think a lot harder about how I want to parent him.
I also think it could be helpful to once in a while imagine the day that our kids will leave our nest and fly off on their own, whether it be right after high school or beyond that. To simply know that, Lord willing, it will really happen one day. How do I want to parent that child today based on that knowledge? I’m finding that it gives me a much bigger picture in parenting. And we all need reminders. Prayerfully ask the Lord today with how you are viewing your own children, and how God would have you to view them. They are not ours, but His. In my next post, I would like to share a story that illustrates this point.