A few weeks ago, some friends of ours saw their eldest daughter off to Africa to serve with some missionaries in Uganda over the next few months. As I watched (over social media) the goodbyes and prayers for her send-off, I could sense and empathize with the emotional toll on her family as they let her go. But I was also so encouraged and was mentally cheering them on because they were giving her an incredible gift, one of the best and most necessary a parent can give. It’s the gift of letting go.
I don’t know who originally said it, but I once heard someone pose the question, “Are you raising your kids to leave you?” In this helicopter-parenting age, that’s a really tough one to swallow. A new mother myself, I’ve started grappling with this question as I think about my daughter’s future. Before I had a kid, I would judge all those families who couldn’t seem to cut the cord and let their kids grow up. But of course, now that I’ve joined the ranks of parenthood those decisions and scenarios don’t seem so easy, understandably so! After all the years of 24/7 care, bonding, discipline, and even just close proximity to each other, it’s hard for us to accept the reality that they will one day leave to make their own way in the world without us. All parents, Christian or not, have to wrestle with that. We have to do our best to try and raise kids who will be wise and competent adults, and then gradually let them go figure out how to do that on their own as they get older.
But Christian parents have an even greater responsibility here. Not only do we need to let our children go because it’s healthy and necessary, but so they (and we) can learn to trust our great God for their direction, joy, and growth. We want them to live a life of faith and dependence on their heavenly Father. But how can they do that if we functionally put ourselves in the place of God, wanting them to trust us and let us guide all their decisions instead of the one who knows and loves them even better than we do? We have to let them go. We have to daily, hourly, and in big ways and small, entrust them back to their Creator and truest Father, the one who gave them to us to steward (not own) for a short time.
Furthermore, we must humble ourselves before the reality that we cannot teach our children everything, and that they will make mistakes. We hate to see our children suffer for their bad decisions, and we do our best to give them a strong foundation and biblical worldview so they might see and act with the right lenses, but testing and stumbling are sure to come. In letting them go out and experience the diversity of both the Body of Christ and life itself there are pitfalls and dangers, and they won’t escape them all. But God willing and in Christ, our children will find refinement through repentance and suffering, and incredible growth in stepping out of their home and seeing God bigger and more extraordinary than any picture we as their parents have tried to paint.
I’m absolutely preaching to myself here! If God grants my daughter long enough days in this life for me to have to put my money where my mouth is, that will be the real test. I’m incredibly thankful that I was given a wonderful example to follow in my parents, who trusted God and let me go time and time again to live out my own adventures and explore what He would have for me – going away to college, jetting off to Turkey for a semester, overseas short-term missions, and more. Even so, I know it will be much harder when this becomes more than a theoretical prospect for my own child.
But by God’s grace, I so want to excel in this. I want to joyfully give my daughter the gift of letting go in many times and many ways, to release her to experience God’s provision and discipline in places near and far but not home. So may God help us to steward the short time He’s given, and guide and prepare us and our children for those hard but beautiful days ahead of letting go.