Lord, Take My Cup...Finding Hope in the Days After Letting Them Go
Last week I hugged my son goodbye at college and watched him walk into the next chapter of his life.
It was 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 God—a 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 being—from 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).