By Whitney Miller
“Don’t turn around. Don’t look back. Leave them with a smile and a hug; that’s what they need.
This is good for them, and whatever you do, you can’t ruin their excitement with your sadness…
Because in the end, it is not about you.”
When my children were young, and I was more than a little bit overwhelmed with being their mom, people used to say to me, “Enjoy it! It will be over before you know it.” On my worst days, the thought in the back of my head was, “Yeah? It can’t be over soon enough!” Of course I didn’t mean that, but in those early stages of motherhood I was often so exhausted and full of self-doubt that I had trouble accessing “enjoyment” in the moment. I got better at it and eventually found being a mom one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences of my life.
Now the “home phase” of parenting is over, and I am left breathless. My two babies are about to leave me. In actuality they are not leaving me; they are going off to college. By the grace of God they are both in a really good place. They are pursuing God even as they step out to pursue education and career. They have great friends and have made great life choices as far as I can tell. In every respect, I know they are ready to launch. These things give me great joy, but to be honest, as the time between now and their departure ticks away, what I know in my head is increasingly drowned out by the alarm bells going off in my heart. All I know right now is they are leaving, and things will never be the same.
Motherhood is a perpetual exercise in letting go. From the day my babies no longer wanted to nurse or come sleep in our bed, to the time when I no longer picked their clothes, or their friends, or their actions for them, God has had to wrestle each dying bit from my hands. I never knew I could be this bonded to another human being before kids. I never knew how hard it would be to want the very best for someone and have little (and ever-diminishing) power to choose for them. I never had any idea what it must be like for God to father me.
Oh Lord, all the times I have been willful and belligerent! All the times I have preferred the affections or company of others to Yours! The full weight of these memories crushes in around me like waves on the coastline, beating against me with each new surge of emotion. Now, Lord, I see as never before, how You have loved me, without condition or record of wrong. Now I understand what You meant when You talked about Your longing to gather the children of Israel together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). Longing for my own children to stay, it is taking everything I have in me to release them. I often find myself sinking under the weight of loss and sorrow.
Yet, as ever, You hold me and prevent me from drowning. Unlike me, in all my physical and geographical limitations, You are limitless. You are everywhere my children will go. In fact, Your Word tells me You have gone before them. You promise me that You, who have begun a good work in them which I can clearly see, will be faithful to complete it until the end of the age. Your love is unsullied by any selfish, first-person “need”, for You have need of no one but Yourself and the fellowship You enjoy with the Son and the Holy Spirit. And yet, like me, You long for Your children, for my children. You love them unconditionally and You desire fellowship with them, even as I do. You have chosen them and promise to pursue them, and I know by Your very character that they will never be lost to You.
To such a God as this, and only to such a God as this, could I bear to release my children. They are loved, and I tell them so, by their father and me, but especially and supremely by You. Where I can no longer protect, I know You will. What intimate details I will miss, I know You won’t. And because i is You who ordained the family in the first place, I believe I can trust You to keep our family close, even as my children go away. They were Yours way before they were ever mine, and thanks to You, Jesus, they will be mine forever - no matter where they are or what they do. As for me, Lord, I am so thankful that I will never have to go through this, or any other difficult thing, without You. Thank You Abba. Amen.
Perhaps you too have borne the heartache of saying goodbye to children or someone else you deeply love. What an extraordinary gift to know a God who not only feels the same longing and pain we do, but who promises to watch over our loved ones, protecting, correcting, instructing and loving them until the end. Can you release them to a God like this? In the releasing, you will experience a peace beyond understanding. And in the vacancy left in our hearts and schedules, there enters a relational God who loves us more than we will ever know, who died to have relationship with us. Maybe there is more to our relationship with our heavenly Father than we have yet imagined or experienced. In the wake of all these emotions, my heart rises to reach for more…