Parent Devotion: Losing Ourselves and Finding More of Jesus
[This article is an excerpt from a chapter in this best-selling devotional book, Release My Grip, Hope for a Parent's Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly
I was at my mailbox last weekend and saw my neighbor, Beth, weeding her garden. As I strolled over to say hello, I noticed she wasn’t just weeding…
She was weeping.
On her knees. Right there on the front lawn.
I asked if she was OK, and she explained that they’d just dropped off Logan, the last of her three kids, at college the day before.
She sobbed, “I am NOT OK—I AM TOTALLY LOST!”
She confessed that she walked by Logan’s empty bedroom last night, and realized it was the first time since the day he was born that she didn’t need to turn on his nightlight anymore. The nightlight ritual represented 18 years of mama-nurturing rhythm, and at that moment, she suddenly recognized how much the routine of doing little daily mom-things was over for good. She felt empty, lonely, and lost.
Apparently this realization also caused her to burst into tears, hurl herself onto his bed, and bury her face in his sheets to inhale the lingering scent of her son. All night long.
“His smell isn’t going to last forever, and it’s all I have left!” she wailed.
(OK--She totally lost me at lying face down on her son’s sheets to intentionally breathe in the scent of teenage boy. I personally avoid any direct contact with my teenage sons’ bedding because I can smell it from the hallway.*Gag*)
But my conversation with Beth reminded me of the same feeling of loss and bewilderment about my identity that I felt when my daughter left for college 2 years ago. I spent a lot of time wondering about what her leaving for college meant for ME.
Being a mother is the lens through which I usually see my existence. Even though I’ve had a rewarding professional career, being a mother is the most important job I’ve ever had.
Being a mother is who I am.
Or so I’ve thought...
Perhaps being a mother is an identity that’s swallowed me up amid the parental sacrifice and satisfaction of feeling valuable and loved by being needed and constantly doing all sorts of mom things.
I’ve started to recognize that being a mother is NOT all that I am, but that being a mother is God’s way of letting me know something even more important about myself…and about him.
You see, when I held my daughter right after she was born, I finally experienced what unconditional love felt like. My first epiphany as a parent was finally being able to comprehend how God really loves us. Another mom once described it so well: “God gave me a baby girl so that I can truly understand how he feels about his baby girl.”
And watching my daughter walk up the steps of her freshman dorm as our car drove away brought part 2 of the epiphany: That deep, guttural, lay-face-down-on-their-sheets-longing-to-hold-our-babies close and stay connected in their life even though we’re releasing them to be independent is exactly how our heavenly father yearns for us.
Because we are all beloved children of the King.
Before we were mothers, or fathers, or grandparents--- before we ever accomplished anything in our lives with our “doing”-- we were known, valued and loved. The promise of the Gospel is all the proof we'll ever need.
And how often I forget that as I independently march forward through life measuring my worth by worldly standards, determined to control the destiny of myself and my loved ones through the accomplishments of my perpetual human endeavors.
The journey of parenthood will never be over. The seasons of “doing” will wane as our kids grow up, but we’ll never stop being their parents. Someday just being is going to be enough.
I’m learning to rest more in the “being” of my life. Losing some of my identity that was tied into the busyness and “doings” of parenthood is clearing a path towards embracing my true identity that’s ironically not even really about me—it’s about who I am in Christ.
My identity is about whose I am. (Not whose mom I am.)
Digging Deeper: A simple reflection and challenge for parents who are enduring the season of letting their kids go:
- Go sit quietly in your son or daughter's bedroom and look around. (Sniff their sheets if you dare!) Let your mind wander for a few minutes through a mental collage of sacred lifetime moments with your child—from the day they were born, to watching them take their first steps, to watching them walk away at college.
- Do you feel that overwhelming sense of pride and love mixed with a raw, deep longing of your heart? Consider this feeling as an invitation—an outstretched hand from your Heavenly Father beckoning you into his loving embrace. Come to him, and rest in the new-found understanding of how God truly yearns for you, and how he desires a connected relationship with his precious child every single day.
- Read and reflect on Psalm 139: 13-18, Romans 8:38-39, and Colossians 3:1-3. Read them again. And again.
- Share your heart with God in a time of prayer—talking to him, and listening too. Ask God: “Who do you say that I am?” Journal the words the Holy Spirit brings to you.
Challenge: Launch a "fearless conversation" with your college-age loved one about identity
Young adulthood is a key time of self-discovery as our kids are wrestling with the question “Who am I, REALLY?” It's also an important topic of conversation for parents and their college-age kids, as it offers significant insights into how they view themselves and their value.
Invite your son or daughter to talk about what they've discovered about their identity since entering college. Enter into the conversation with the intent to truly listen with an open mind. A non-threatening way to do this is simply by asking open-ended questions such as:
- "What things about yourself have surprised you the most since you got to college?"
- "What are 2 important traits you've learned about yourself since you left home?"
- "Is there a place/group of people you've found on campus where you feel most comfortable and accepted? Tell me about it."
- "How has your faith impacted your view of yourself and others when meeting new people?"
Listen first. Let them speak as much--or as little--as they want to. Resist the urge to correct or rebut what they're saying. Instead, follow up with questions such as "why is that" or "why do you think you feel this way?"
If they ask questions about your experience, or if it's "your turn" to share, be transparent and honest about your discoveries about how your own identity has been challenged during times of transition--including now. Explaining what you're doing ( or what you'd like to be doing) to deepen your relationship with Jesus in the midst of this is a great way to have a mature, meaningful faith conversation.
Remind them at the end of your conversation how much you love them, and how loved they are by God. They are never too old to hear it! And if you're comfortable, end your time by praying together.
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).