Full Heart and Open Hands


Elaine Cook wrote to me last week several weeks ago. I asked if I could share our correspondence with you. She has graciously agreed. She wrote, quoting me:

"There is no wound so painful, no hurt so raw as a mother's heart just after she sends her firstborn to college."

I know that's true because I'm experiencing it now. Anything more you can offer to help us overcome this challenge in faith, please do. I (and some of my friends) are struggling with our perceived failures as mothers, with concern that we haven't prepared our children enough or well enough and with sadness that this phase of our mothering is over.

Tell us how you have overcome those feelings (if you had them), please. I want to be happy for my son and encouraging, but I will miss him so much. I am happy I still have my daughter at home, but those little kid years are over and I'm not ready for them to end.

Yet another reason to have a big family?

Honestly, I think this is one of those "If I knew what I was doing, I'd being doing it right now" moments. I don't know what I'm doing. I'm holding on by the grace of God and learning as I go. Let's look at each of her thoughts.

First, is this a challenge in faith? Yep, I think it can be. I think that intentional, faithful mothers can get to this stage and be astonished that a loving Father would allow it to hurt so much. It's as if the more you loved and the more you cared, the more you get hurt. There are mothers doing a happy dance when their kids get on the bus to kindergarten and there are mothers who can't wait to shove their teens out the door and redecorate their bedrooms as exercise rooms. I don't really understand them. And there have been moments when I've envied them. At least they don't hurt. If we get stuck there, it's a crisis in faith.

If we see how much it hurt the Blessed Mother to lose Jesus and then to find Him in the temple, we can see that God is in this whole thing. He wonders at her dismay. Didn't she know that He was going to leave her, to talk among the learned, to go out into the world. Of course she did. And still, it hurt.

Now, what about the failures and the worries that we didn't do enough, care enough, listen enough, train enough...anything and everything enough? Some of those are legitimate, I think. None of us will look back without regret. None of us can say we did everything just perfectly. I think we can express those regrets--to ourselves, to our spouses, maybe to our children, and definitely to God. We can bring it to the throne of mercy and leave it there. Those of us with younger children can gratefully embrace the opportunity to do it better the next time. We pray we won't make those mistakes again. (Chances are, we'll find new ones to make:-).

If we get stuck in the regret, we will be tormented by both anxiety and depression. I know. I was in that particular stuck place. It wasn't pretty and it didn't do me or my family any good. We can't have a do-over. All we have is a do-now.And now, we have the circumstances at hand. What lessons He is teaching me in my year of Now! How could I have ever imagined how necessary Now would be when this year began? We spend a moment (okay a day, a week, or two) crying over the loss, but then we have to embrace the season we are in, lest we begin to sow new seeds which will grow into weeds of regret. We have the now. We have to live it as the gift it is.

I do look differently at the children who remain at home. I know where this season of mothering goes, where it ends. I know it's going to hurt like heck. And still, by the grace of God, I throw my self into loving them with reckless abandon. If anything, I am more mindful of investing every moment of intentional love into these relationships. This is the life for which I was created. The life of love.

Elaine wrote to me three weeks ago, as Patrick was leaving. I had just read an offhand remark a friend made on Facebook about how it was easier to let her second child go. That was not the experience I was living. Perhaps it was Paddy's age. Perhaps it was the distance. Perhaps it was the schedule and the controls which make daily contact brief and fleeting. Or maybe it was because I'd been through it before and I knew how irrevocably a relationship with a child changes when they leave home and I don't much like the change [yet? It's still a work in progress, no?]. Whatever the case, the second time was more difficult. And I looked at Elaine's question and wondered how I could hurt like this seven more times. 

It's been three weeks. And right now, all I am allowing myself to see is the Now. And in the now, I still have children to cuddle, favorite books to revisit and late night teenage talks. I'm not ready for my days with wee ones to end yet, either, and by the grace of God, they don't have to. Now. It's a full, rich life in a well populated nest. I can't borrow pain from the future. I know better. And in the now, there are two boys making their ways in the world. They bring new light and dimension to our family's tapestry. They weave their stories uniquely into this year's length of fabric. To wish it any other way is to wish away those experiences. And they are good, just as they are different.

I am assured by a small handful of mothers who travel before me on this journey that the next season of life is a great and glorious one. I choose to believe them. I want to believe them. Some mothers don't understand your pain, Elaine. They did a little jig when the nest was empty. Some people don't understand how anyone could even contemplate having more than two children. Those people aren't me. And in my trying to understand this experience, I wonder sometimes at how little is said or written about it. And then, I don't wonder at all. For all its universality, it is a very unique and personal experience, one that is different for the same mother even, with each child.

And that brings me to my final thought. Like no other experience in my life (even cancer), the experience of letting my children go has been one of profound prayer. Of course, I am praying for them. But I am also very aware that no one in the world knows exactly how I feel. It's just me and God. I try to steep my soul in the psalms, to pray the Hours with full faith and confidence in the prayers of the ages, to beg His mercy with every breath. And to think that this is all part of what was meant when the Word spoke that women would be saved in childbearing. We birth them; we nurture them; and we bear them into the world to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.