From the very first moment those little eyes open and we hear them cry for the first time, we love our children. Even though there are moments that we get exasperated and frustrated, everything about us is conditioned to care for them and love them and protect them. It is part of our DNA.
Because we are mothers.
Unfortunately, we also have to live with the constant reminder that our children are pulling away from us. When they take that first step, they are becoming independent. Most of us get pretty excited when that happens. We like the little freedoms that are promised beyond our child-centered lives that maybe, one day, we will be able to go to the bathroom by ourselves.
What we do not like and what we will do anything and everything to prevent is for harm to come to those little doughy wonders. Mamas are mamas everywhere—we become grizzly bears when it comes to protecting our cubs. We have dreams for them—dreams of happiness and prosperity and safety. We pray for their futures constantly, and we trust that if we can just protect them long enough, guiding them in the way they should go, then all will be well.
So, what do we do when that doesn’t seem to be happening? What do we do when our children grow up and make bad decisions or enter hard times or suffer in ways we can’t control? What if our children become alcoholics, drug addicts or leave the faith we instilled into them?
That’s when God is calling us to let go. We have to loosen our iron maiden grips on their lives and allow them to fall, to fail, to suffer, and to hurt.
Like many other moms, I’ve had to endure this very thing with my boys. I am the mother of an alcoholic. I have endured sleepless nights, not knowing if my son was dead or alive. It is heart-wrenching to be unable to help our own flesh and blood.
I have discovered four truths that can help mothers keep their sanity during these very difficult times.
1. Realize it is going to be hard.
The human baby is the most helpless baby of all living things. God created human mothers to do every single thing to sustain that life once it’s born. We are hard-wired to keep them safe. It is enormously difficult for mothers to deny their created nature in order to allow something opposite to occur. That is especially true when we are asked to allow pain and hardship come to our children. My nature tells me to help. My God tells me to get out of the way.
I read a story about a man who came across a butterfly cocoon. The butterfly was just trying to break free of the cocoon, and the man felt compassion on the small creature. He took his thumb and just peeled away a small portion so that the butterfly quickly emerged. The man immediately noticed that the butterfly looked abnormal. Instead of having big, beautiful wings that look it to flight, the insect had small, misshapen wings, and it stumbled around on the ground, seemingly unable to fly.
You see, when that man followed his compassionate heart and helped the butterfly avoid its struggle, he stopped the necessary process the insect needed to grow. The butterfly was created so that when it struggled in its cocoon for freedom, vital, life-giving blood is forced through its undeveloped wings so that it can grow and become strong. Without that struggle, the butterfly will emerge crippled and unable to fly, a ready and vulnerable meal to any bird that flies by.
God tells us over and over that we need those struggles, just like the butterfly, so that we can become all that He wants us to be. Letting that happen is hard, but it is hard for a reason.
2. There is a training ground for learning to let go.
Our children move toward being independent very shortly after they are born. They are literally drawn toward independence. They do it gradually, one milestone at a time. These are milestones for us, too. God is so loving in that He knows exactly how hard it will be for us to watch them move into their own destinies, some of which will require pain. Instead of making us tear that terrible Band-Aid off all at once, He allows us to do it a step at a time, each step increasing in difficulty. It is harder to watch them go to Kindergarten than to take their first step. It’s harder to watch them get cut from the soccer team or get rejected by some kids at school. Then, they get their drivers licenses—talk about difficult! These milestones are our training ground, and we should be grateful for them.
3. You are not alone.
Mothers everywhere and throughout history have dealt with letting their children go. In the Bible we read about Hannah who had to let her promised boy, Samuel, go as soon as he was weaned because she had promised him to God. Sarah had to let Abraham take Isaac to Mount Moriah with the intention of killing him, and Mary quite literally watched her precious son, Jesus, suffer the worst death imaginable while she was powerless to stop it. All of these women have one thing in common—with each other and with us. Their “letting go” meant offering their children up to God, for His purposes and promises. God had not forgotten them or turned His back on them. He was fulfilling that which He promised, but these mothers had to let go so that His perfect will could be accomplished. It’s exactly the same for our children. God has a destiny for each of them. When we hang onto them with the intentions of protecting them from the struggles they are enduring, we are inhibiting the growth that comes only through pain. We are standing in the way of the beautiful testimonies being born, world-changing work that will come, and fulfillment that only God can bring to our children’s lives.
4. Remember that you are highly favored.
As I watched my boys fall and fail and hurt, God reminded me time and time again that mothers are highly favored. You may wonder at the logic of that, especially when your heart is breaking as it looks like you’re losing them. But God reminded me that He entrusted these children with us. He didn’t do that accidentally. My boys are my boys on purpose. God chose me to birth them, to nurture them, to love them, and to keep them safe. He did the same for you. Not only does He trust us with caring for them, but He trusts that when the time comes, we will be strong enough to deny our created natures and give them back to Him. God has made us His trusted stewards, but He gave us an almost super-human strength of will that He only gives to mothers—a will that enables us to actually let go of the things we were created to hang onto with all of our might. We are highly favored, and we are supremely loved. God’s heart is for mothers. He is knit to us through this sacrifice, and we honor Him each and every time we allow Him to be God in the lives of our children.
In the middle of the heartbreaking, daunting task of letting our children go, we must look up and remember that we are truly favored and loved by the Creator of the universe. It is, indeed, a high calling, but it is a beautiful one.
Because we are mothers.