This is one of my favorite times of the year to look at social media. Facebook and Instagram are loaded with back to school pictures…from first day at preschool to first day of college. There have even been some leaving-home-for-first-job pictures. Keep them coming! These pictures are always bittersweet. I especially love the pictures that show the goodbye hugs, the tears, and the looks on faces of both parent and child. There have even been some blog posts about the struggle of letting go, trusting God with your child no matter what age they are. We keep having to put our babies back in the basket and float them into the future God has for them.
I’ve been thinking about this letting go thing for some time now, and it is a continual theme in my office. I’ve decided that life is a succession of losses, one letting go after another. And oh how we hate that letting go. It’s been many years since I have read Judith Viorst’s book, Letting Go. I’m remembering the central tenant of the book is that life presents us with a series of losses that are necessary to our growth and development. These losses include the loss of a mother’s protection, the losses of impossible expectations for our lives, the loss of our younger selves (OUCH!), and the loss of loved ones through separation or death. Trying to hold on is futile, but we still hang on, sometimes desperately.
I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that demonstrates the struggle involved in letting go. Try to picture your seven-year old self with both fists full of coins. You have been collecting and saving those coins, maybe for something special. These coins are yours, and you finally have enough to fill both of your tightly clenched hands. Now suppose a stranger comes along and offers you two handfuls of diamonds. But in order to receive these diamonds you have to let go of your coins. Maybe as a seven-year old, you don’t realize the value of diamonds. And you are very suspicious of this stranger. He might not have your best interest at heart. So you refuse the offer and keep your coins. But you have done so at the expense of great treasure.
At the heart of letting go is loss of control. We think if we hold on we can protect and keep. But control is just an illusion. We only have control over our choices, not the outcome. We can exercise, eat the right foods, have regular checkups, and faithfully brush our teeth, but cancer may get us anyway. As for letting go of our children, that was the whole goal from the beginning. You do your best as a parent. You provide them with all the basics and many of the luxuries. You try your best to teach them to be kind and respectful, to be contributing members of society, and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But the window of time for this training is brief. When you look at eighteen years in the rear view mirror, it seems like it went by so fast. And it goes by even faster with grandchildren! We have to remind ourselves over and over that those children we poured ourselves into were never ours to begin with. They belong to God and were on loan to us for a short time. We also must remember that God loves them even more than we do. I remember a long-ago conversation with God when I heard Him say, “How can I be God in her life if you keep trying to be God?” Moms and dads, here is a little secret: The empty nest is also wonderful. Seeing your baby hold her baby is priceless! Watching your son teach his son how to hit a baseball is special! You wouldn’t want to miss out on that. Growing old with the man you have loved for a lifetime is a hard-to-put-into-words blessing. We need to understand that there are different kinds of good. Holding on to what is already gone keeps us stuck, and it keeps us from enjoying our new chapters, new seasons. You will get through this, and a year from now things may look entirely different (see photos above and below.)
There are daily losses I must reckon with, and more losses to come. A look in the mirror is a reminder. I now know from experience that every loss comes with a gain, a hidden gift. But oh how I hate losing firm skin! Even the worst of losses, the death of a loved one or our own death, is a necessary loss. We try to hold on to people, positions, possessions, and even our own lives, but these are things that keep us earthbound. I need to open my hands and let go of the coins because diamonds await!
To everything there is a season…a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away. Ecc. 3: 6.