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Lord, Take My Cup...Finding Hope in the Days After Letting Them Go

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Last week I hugged my son goodbye at college and watched him walk into the next chapter of his life.

It was hard.

Really hard.

But somehow I managed to make it back to the car, and I only ugly-cried for about the first few miles of the 10-hour car ride home.

I rallied myself by focusing my thoughts on the beautiful campus where we’d left him behind, how nice his roommate was, and how perfectly the school seemed to fit him. I was proud and excited for him, and I kept treading in that spot to avoid sinking below the surface into the darker waters of sadness.

But when we finally pulled into our driveway around 1:00am, I was suddenly struck with a wave of grief that was so visceral it took my breath away.

“I need to call him and say goodnight!!!” I wailed to my husband, who calmly reminded me that our son hates to talk on the phone, and that I needed to give him some space to adjust and not pester him with my needs.

I stared at my phone, desperate to hear his voice with a yearning that only a mama can understand, but I simply texted: “We just got home—heading to bed. Goodnight, buddy. I love you.”

“I love you too” he texted back.

I was thrilled, and shrieked “HE’S STILL UP! LET’S CALL HIM REALLY QUICK—I JUST NEED TO TALK TO HIM”

My husband shook his head and wrapped his arms around me while gently prying my phone from my hands.

“It might be what you need, but it’s not what he needs right now," he whispered. “You can call him tomorrow, but you’ve got to remember that letting go is a process, and your job is to keep supporting that momentum. Don't overwhelm him with your needs, keep putting his needs before your own—that’s what parents do,”

And then I melted into a heap of hot mess on the floor, bemoaning this whole sucky parenting gig with all of its suffering and sacrifices, guilt and grief, “ought's and should's”even back to the sleepless nights and stretch marks.

My husband waited patiently for my sob-rant-fest to subside, and then reminded me that the reason I was so sad to begin with was that I loved motherhood so much and was grieving my kids growing up.

“But hasn’t all the pain been worth it?” he asked.

Ugh. How ironic.

Since that epic meltdown a week ago I’ve continued on an emotional roller coaster that’s oddly been a combination of missing my son’s daily presence and the turmoil of restraining my constant urge to contact him.  To call or not to call? To text, or not to text?

I'm longing to hear stories about the friends he's making. And if things are going well with his roommate.  And if he likes the dining hall food. And his classes. And the weather. And if he's joined any clubs. And if he got his books. And if he's sleeping well. And if he misses home. (And if he misses me.)

All of these mama-musings have been swirling around in my head daily, along with the urge to simply connect to him. To reach for him. To know he’s there and thriving. To give me some relief from the suffocating grief of letting go.

It’s what I need in order to process his departure from home and fill the empty space he’s left behind. But it’s not what he needs for an unencumbered entry into this new season of independence.

I remind myself of this when I start sliding into a state of despair, but it’s not easy.  For some reason my urge to reach out is constant and overbearing, and each time I resist the temptation I’m doused with a fresh wave of sadness that only increases my suffering in the stark awareness of his absence.

But, like so many other times when I’ve endured sufferings along the path of life and motherhood, when my heart feels like it can’t bear the burden anymore—I reach for God. (OK—more like I bolt wildly into his arms like a small hysterical child who’s just fallen off her bike—but God's cool with that.)

And somehow God’s presence reminds me that although love, suffering and sacrifice are inextricably woven together, love always wins.

We’re sad because we love our kids so much and letting them go is hard. And missing them hurts. And we feel bad (and lonely and a little  crazy) for feeling sad because we can't understand how something "good" can feel so painful.

But our love is still bigger than our sadness. And God’s love is big enough to cover us, and give us hope and peace in this painful transition.

Suffering and sacrifice are simply part of the journey of loving unconditionally. It’s God’s economy.

Jesus’ life on earth is the masterpiece of this truth.

Jesus sacrificed his life out of love for us, but what I often forget is that he also suffered for us. He not only felt the slow, excruciating physical pain of crucifixion, but he suffered with emotional pain of dreading what was to come.

In the New Testament we see this when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane with his disciples and he slipped aside to pray just before he was arrested.

 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Luke 22: 42-44

The cup Jesus refers to is the cup of suffering. But his cup of suffering was much more than his own suffering, it was also filled with all the bitterness of the sins of man and the wrath of Goda cup he knew he must drink in order for us to have fellowship with God. (That's a much bigger cup than I've ever had to bear!)

But what I see in Jesus’ prayer is the natural suffering and pain of a genuine human beingfrom someone who was fully man as well as fully divine. For some reason his suffering—not just his sacrifice—was required in this ultimate act of love. Jesus understands what human suffering is all about. He’s been there. He gets it, and he gets us.

I take comfort in knowing that the grief and suffering I feel as a mother during this season of letting go is normal and a natural part of loving. I take comfort sharing my pain with a God who understands. I take comfort in knowing that Jesus himself cried out for relief when the burden got too heavy.

And I take comfort in knowing that suffering is not the end of the story...it is simply a season. And it will pass.

Hope is around the corner, and good things are still to come.  

This I know for sure.


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Written by Kami Gilmour, mom of 5 teen and young adult kids. (releasing her grip on her son at college drop-off day in the photo.) Kami is the author of a best selling devotional book for parents of college students (Release My Grip).

 

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Showing 14 comments
  • Avatar
    Paula
    Reply

    How could you possibly everything I do feeling? My son is gone and I feel the loss of him. But also feel so proud of the young man that he has become.

  • Avatar
    Katherine Waters-Clark
    Reply

    Love this piece so much, and I’m going through the exact feelings described here. Although your post is, for me, just a bit more religious-sounding than I usually prefer, the description of this loss and grief and longing is spot on. I just dropped off my twin daughters at different colleges, and I’m a bit dazed and wandering, welling up and okay again. I’ve not gone in the room that they share yet. I will tomorrow. And I’ve resisted the urge to text text text many times. I’ve also given in many times. I just miss them here in my house. Also, I secretly want to kind of punch your hubby for being so reasonable, mine is the same. I hate it! Sure maybe they are right, blah blah, I don’t want to hear reasonable right now. So anyway, thank you for writing, it’s good to know that I’m not alone! Mamma of College Twins xo

    • Avatar
      Kami Gilmour
      Reply

      Hey Katherine-
      I cannot imagine the double-toughness of twins leaving! I had to laugh at your husband comment–so true!!!! (I swear it brings out my immaturity even more sometimes!) Best of luck to you as you adjust to a new normal. It DOES get better, and it’s fun to so our kiddos grow into amazing adults!

      • Avatar
        Katherine Waters-Clark
        Reply

        HI Kami! I am just seeing this reply today, March 15, 2017, almost 6 months after commenting on this sweet post. Thank yo for the reply. As for me, I’m 6 months in to being a college mom and for the most part it’s been okay! There have definitely been a few tough days, birthdays and holidays were hard, I missed them bitterly. It was so nice to have them home for a month at Christmas and then again soon after for Spring break! I know that as the years go by they will be home less and less, what with international internships and travel with friends, but for this year they are with me and I love it. Keep writing!!

  • Avatar
    Pat
    Reply

    Perfect timing. I am struggling to put one foot in front of the other. What do I have to fill this void? My child made me so happy, and now they’re gone. This is more painful than the death of my parents.
    Prayer brings such peace. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Avatar
      Kami Gilmour
      Reply

      Hi Pat, Thanks for sharing your heart–at least we know we’re not alone! These weeks/months of adjustment are painful, indeed. Grieving change is part of the process, and I try to remind myself I haven’t “lost” my kids, I’m just gaining new adults. Keep taking one step at a time. It’s a new season, a new rhythm, and you’ll find your new normal. Here’s another devotion I wrote last year that I think might also really help you, as it addresses some of the “longing” http://tinyurl.com/htkfz62

  • Avatar
    Donna cleland
    Reply

    My grandson left for college two weeks ago, he was raised across the street from me so I saw him every day and took him to school everyday third grade though junior year of high school. I’ve never had anything hurt so bad, I thought it would get easier as days passed quickly but I miss him so much, and I am so proud of him but he has always been shy and timid I am worried that since its been two weeks and no friends yet that he is very lonely. He is out of state going to school.

  • Avatar
    Anne
    Reply

    That was the perfect word for me at the perfect time (thank you, Lord). I dropped my oldest at UMD 2 weeks ago and was starting to crack last night because she wasn’t calling and texting as I’d hoped. When she finally did call I found myself annoyed with her because she wasn’t more attached to me (which is ridiculous because she’s doing great which is what we wanted for her). (this is my naked confession- I know it sounds horrible). I keep forgetting suffering and love go hand and hand- don’t know why I keep thinking this should all “feel” good. Great reminder of what Christ’s love for us looks like.

  • Avatar
    Cindy Pickett
    Reply

    if that’s not God’s hand….I was just sitting here with tears rolling down my face missing my freshman son, (my youngest ) when I came across this post. I could have written it myself. Thank You!

  • Avatar
    Kandi
    Reply

    All i know is, God’s got her and everybody else’s child in the palm of His hand and that has been what has given me peace. Nine hours away feels like forever, but she is safe, healthy, and enjoying this new journey so far. I am blessed to have a girl who loves to communicate, so I am enjoying her texts and face time! Thank you Lord for technology! 🙂

    “Be Kind-Be You-Love Jesus” were my last words to her as we dropped her off. All we ever really need to do, right? Prayers for those who have multiple children in college or a new empty nest-that would be much harder for me. I have a high school sophomore who is still keeping me busy! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Bernadette
      Reply

      Yes. The last one is much tougher. Finding your favorite part of this life over is hard, harder than I cold have imagined. God never takes something good away unless He has something better for us. I try to remember the many blessings I have to be thankful for in my son’s life and trust that He will show me where I am needed now. Being single makes the emptiness in the house louder still. I dread coming home. We need extra prayer. I am praying for each of you, asking Him to open your eyes to his presence with you and to open your ears to his will for you and to open your heart to His perfect love for you.

  • Avatar
    Gayle Beard
    Reply

    Ours is entering his senior year of college. I miss him just as much now as I did when he left for his freshman year…but it’s different. I have enjoyed watching him become the awesome young man that he is today, but then I realize he will graduate in nine months. He will graduate, get a new job, possibly move even farther away,(he’s 6 hrs away now) and move forward with his life. While I know that all of this is supposed to happen, because that means we raised him “right”, (right?) I find myself thinking, “would it be that bad to have him living in the basement til he’s 40?!” I miss seeing him every day, hearing his voice, his laugh, and the big hugs he’s never been shy about giving me. I know the biggest hardship has been realizing that my favorite part of me, is being his mom, and I feel like I’m not doing that on a daily basis any longer.
    I think this whole thing would be much easier if I didn’t like the “kid” so much.
    For those of you who have recently sent your freshmen to college, keep your ears open. They will call you, I promise! And you will be amazed at the beautiful person your child becomes over the next few years!

  • Avatar
    Michele Miller
    Reply

    I have been getting myself ready for this for a year, knowing myself and realizing that I would not handle this well. I told my kids 22 & 18 they couldn’t move out the same time and what did they do, you guessed it with in 3 weeks of each other. I know my strength comes from Our Lord because I think I am handling better than I thought.Stay encouraged and enjoy the spontaneous things you can do with your husband.

  • Avatar
    Erik w/a “k”
    Reply

    Kami! So far I think I’m the only dad responding here, but this is me! We literally left my son at college for the first time on Saturday. All your feels, thoughts, fears…me too! I’ve been a little bit of a mess. Fighting to not text him every day and allow him to reach out. This is hard. Jesus is good. Thank you!

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