Pause. Pray. Ponder. (Solutions For Winning Unexpected Battles)
A throwback to back to school days!
Nick and Kati are in their 20s and happily married now!
It's been several years now since my kids left home for college or work, but seeing so many recent Facebook posts of back to school pictures and comments made me think back to my early years of being an empty nester. I've shared before that I was prepared to miss my kids and figured I would feel sad and perhaps a little lost for awhile. I was surprised, though, by some other feelings that showed up along the way.
One of the hardest things for me in those first years was accepting and actually appreciating the role that other people would naturally play in my adult children's lives. I'm embarrassed to admit that in some ways I felt threatened by the new relationships they were building. Funny enough, while Nick and Kati lived at home, I encouraged their relationships with other adults and especially with mentors from our church.
I understood that they needed other influences in their lives and that they needed safe people to confide in and learn from who were not mom and dad. I welcomed and felt very grateful for any input and attention they received. I accepted that Tom and I could never give them everything they needed, that they would flourish best and live most victoriously by gathering around them many advisers as God directs us in Proverbs.
But a switch flipped inside me after they left home.
I felt a myriad of emotions.
All of a sudden I found it hard to trust.
I didn't always agree with the decisions they made based on input they received from friends and new mentors and couldn't always figure out how to navigate those situations wisely.
I was fearful of them getting "bad" advice and making "bad" decisions.
I was jealous of the relationships they were building that didn't include me.
It occurred to me that other people might usurp the role as the primary influencer in their lives and that left me feeling insecure and unsure of my role.
So many things were changing, and I was flailing, trying to accept all the changes going on and yet hold on to what I felt comfortable with as "the parent."
While I knew what I was thinking needed to change, I was also stumped by my reactions. I had no idea what was lurking in my heart. That transition exposed my controlling nature and even a fair amount of pride. As I dug a bit deeper, however, what I discovered most was a lack of faith and trust in God's hand in my children's lives.
God was taking me to new levels of surrender, and I was super uncomfortable.
On top of it all, I was embarrassed to admit what was really going on inside.
I knew we were raising our kids to leave, be independent, and live lives that would be separate from Tom and I. I understood it intellectually, but my heart took a while to catch up with the realities that presented themselves after they left home. I had often prayed about getting them ready, and God graciously answered that prayer.
I guess I should have prayed more about getting myself ready!
How many times over the years had I helped other women as they went through similar transitions? Yet here I was, stuck in a mess of emotions and resisting the same advice I had sagely meted out to others.
There was another area I needed to grow in that God was gracious enough to help me see.
Tom served as an elder in our congregation when the kids left home. That blessing revealed another unexpected struggle for me. It exposed a level of entitlement I hadn't anticipated. Because of Tom's "position," in my heart, I expected certain things of the churches my kids attended when they moved. As hard as it is to admit, I expected a bit of special treatment and "looking after."
There was so much wrong with my thinking! It would have been unhealthy for my kids to receive any "special" treatment or attention. They needed the freedom to explore life and build their own reputations.
Don't get me wrong - both my kids loved their experiences after leaving home. This is a dissection of my heart, not of anyone else. I know that every parent believes their children are smart and unique and amazing and should be treated as such. I also know that the book of James warns me rather strongly against showing favoritism. I understand my attitude was wrong. And maybe I'm the only mom who has struggled with such thoughts...
It would be so pleasant to just wrap everything up in a nice package, but sometimes, life isn't a nice little package. I wish it weren't so, but sometimes I struggle to find my way through to the other side of transitions. In this case, my road was paved with some realizations of how far I was from thinking and loving like Jesus.
My path may look different than yours. Every parent has to find their way after the kids leave home. Some of us find it easier than others. I was comforted on my journey when another mom told me she "couldn't believe how much God was working on (her) after her kids left home." Her struggles were different, but it helped to hear I wasn't the only parent getting "refined."
When my friend told me her story, it helped me find the courage to surrender. It helped me to change and accept how much more I needed to trust God. It gives me the courage to share my story now and maybe help another parent. Maybe we share similar struggles.
There are other parts of this journey I will probably write about. Some of the bends in the road have been fascinating. Those learning opportunities include things like dating and matters of opinion and finding the faith and confidence to humbly submit when you disagree. For now, here are some practical things that helped me get to the positive side of this transition...
Pause. Pray. Ponder.
. I had to learn to stop in my tracks and pray about everything I was feeling and the weird and wacky thoughts that tried to overtake me. Instead of reacting and acting on my impulses to control and "protect," I had to reason through my fears and find the right answers in the Bible. I'm so thankful God gives me a way out of my temptations and doesn't leave me hopeless!
"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."
(Psalm 25:4-5, NIV)
. No matter what I faced, God was right there with me. He already knew my heart, and it didn't scare him. He loved me enough to show me where I was and helped me get to the other side.
"What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is with us whenever we pray to him?"
(Deuteronomy 4:7, NIV)
. Who else could I trust with the treasure of my children but God alone? God created them and loves them even more than I do. I have given and received "bad" advice over the years. I'm still faithful and have learned valuable lessons. God is big enough to meet the needs of my children. Taking the time to reason and think about truth helped me grab the irrational thoughts and lay my fears at God's feet.
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens. They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you
(and your children)
are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?""
(Luke 12:22-26, NIV, emphasis added).