We give birth to them, enduring discomfort and suffering after months of pregnancy and the pains of labor. We lose sleep and rise up early, cry when they cry, pray for them like we’ve never prayed before, and our entire lives change: priorities, schedules, activities, choices. Children redirect our thinking and cause us to learn how to love passionately and live for others. As we lay ourselves down and sacrifice our own wants and needs, we grow in affection and appreciation of these little people who come to mean the world to us. The more they grow, the heavier our trunk of memories and mementos. We crave their well-being and happiness; we strive to raise them well and teach them the lessons we ourselves have learned. Our hearts latch on to theirs. We would do anything for them.
I believe it pleases God to give us children. The Bible says they are God’s gift to us. If He, God, has shown us unconditional love and care for us, his children, then it also brings him much joy and honor when we learn to love by having children. God transforms us more and more into his image as we learn repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and grace through relating to our kids.
So here is the conundrum: These people whom we love and die for, need also to be let go of, and often times I find myself feeling like I can never be whole again.
I remember the first time I left Gabriel, my autistic son, in preschool. He was three. We knew he needed to be in that program. But we also knew he had no ability to communicate with us and that if anything happened to him, there were good chances we would never find out. I could not protect him if he needed me. What fear I felt. What heart-wrenching pain. I watched him through the classroom door for a good 40 minutes before I was able to peel myself out of there. I sobbed all the way home.
About a week or so ago I was talking to my friend whose son just left for college. She told me she’s been crying every day since his departure. When I asked her what the biggest source of grief was, she said that she feared he would forget her, very much the way she forgot about her parents when she left home. That fear rang true with me. We might not completely “forget” our parents when we grow into adulthood, but we certainly do not suffer their absence as much as they suffer ours. So here we are left with a heart full of love and commitment and a life given over to our children, just to have to let them go.
Of course, I think growing up is healthy and leaving your parents is natural and actually a good thing. But despite the reason, the age, or the manner and degree in which children leave their parents, it is still a heart-wrenching transition for us. Sometimes the “leaving” comes in the form of the joyous occasion of their marriage, but sometimes it comes in the fearful departure to the military, or in the moving overseas, or in a child who leaves home prematurely, when we fully know they are not ready for it, or losing a child in a custody battle. And what about when a child dies? How does one go on? How does a shattered heart continue beating? Not all of us experience the tragedy of the death of a child, but most of us do have to live through the letting go, to one degree or another, more than once.
I’ve had to let go many times. Having four living children, most of them now adults, and three miscarriages, the letting go has felt extensive. And there is a lot more coming! So how will I do this? How does any parent let go of years of recitals or afternoons at the playground, or driving kids to soccer practice? HOW? Where is the switch that turns off the yearning and desire to spend time, to physically touch, or to feel our love reciprocated?
I do not have any answers. I just feel empathy. I feel for my friend whose son has left for college and for another dear friend who is a single mother and recently gave both of her kids in marriage, the same year. While these are great circumstances and blessed events, they also feel heavy and hard on their hearts. I feel for a couple I know who left their son at rehab on the other side of the country and for the parents I know who will be driving their son to boot camp at the end of the summer. I empathize. I understand.
If I were to be fatalistic about this whole thing, I would come to the conclusion that having children is not recommended, or that allowing oneself to love so intensely will only lead to pain and suffering, so why do it? But I do not see having children and loving your children as bad or destructive. I see it as a gift from God, a good thing. Yes, the more we love, the more we will hurt. So if we don’t hurt much it means that we have not loved much. I’d rather love and suffer than not to know such love. Besides, love for children doesn’t only produce suffering, but it also produces great, unimaginable joy. When I understand such love and happiness, I get a glimpse at what God’s love for me must be like. This is good.
While I don’t have answers, I do have hope. All of us, in this world of parenting, CAN have hope. This I know: If we put our hope in the outcome of our parenting, we might come to be sorely disappointed and wounded. In order to make it in one piece, I have found that my hope needs to be elsewhere. So even though my life will be wrapped around the lives of my children for a period of time, my hope for love, fulfillment, even companionship should lie outside the confines of those relationships. If it’s not, then I will cling to my children for dear life, and create a mess in the process. The love I feel for my children must have no strings attached and it should be truly selfless (not that I come close to achieving this but I strive for it’s approximation).
For one, I know that if I am a married woman, the love for my children should never surpass (in essence or in form) the love for my spouse. Practically, this is hard to do, since children tend to be more needy than spouses. But it is important to remember that the relationship with my children will change over time, while the relationship with my spouse is meant to be until death parts us. I can have a close friend and lover always, even when my children are gone. I can expect and hope companionship and equal partnership in a spouse until the very end, therefore I must treat this marital union with the utmost of priority, always.
But we live in a broken world, a world where people fail us, where loved ones die, where we push others away. So there are no guarantees in life: no surety of a lasting marriage, no certainty of faithful friends or financial security. Everything in life is temporary and changing. So even if I focus on my marriage and foster good, lasting friendships, and raise my children well, my hope cannot possibly be firmly placed on those things, because by nature, they could shift or cease to exist altogether. Only one does not change or fade. Only GOD is a rock, which cannot be moved. Therefore I know that as I prioritize my relationship with him, above the one I have with any human being, then I can rest assured that I will be OK, in the end.
I honestly do not have a grasp on how to let go of my kids. So this hope I cling to: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” – (1st Pet 5:10). Suffering “for a little while” might last my life time, which in the scope of eternity is definitely a short time. The strength the Lord gives me comes in pieces and waves. As I need it, He gives it, mercifully. But the suffering, in one way or another, will continue until the day I am fully restored in His presence. What a hope! I do not labor in vain. I do not love and give and cry and pray for momentary happiness. I live through the bad things and the good things, and the great things of this life, with a much bigger calling: To see him, to be trained by him, and to love him more and more. Peter also says in vs. 4: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Yes! Yes, yes, yes! So even though the letting go of my children remains a daunting task and the loving of others will prove to be both a blessing and a source of pain in this life, there is an unfading hope of never ending happiness and steadfast fellowship with the one who knows me and loves me more intimately than any human being can possibly do. So maybe, just maybe, if I cling to this hope while going through this life, I can then not only “make it”, but rejoice in ALL my circumstances, even in the letting go.