A mother’s job is to prepare her children to go places she cannot go, and closing doors are an inevitable and often bittersweet part of that journey. In this article, Lori Ann Wood looks to the example of three mothers in the Bible and shares how we, too, can prepare ourselves for the closing doors of Christian motherhood.
I’ll never forget the day my husband and I dropped off our oldest child at college.
As parents, we had envisioned this sentimental moment from the day we brought her home from the hospital. We had cleared our schedules months in advance. We had thought about the words we would say as we left her. And we had even planned the prayer we would offer before we gave her our last hug. My imagination had played this milestone in Christian motherhood out in high definition time and time again.
But let’s just say, it didn’t exactly go as planned.
AN UNEXPECTED GOODBYE
We arrived early on orientation day to help her settle into her dorm room at a small Christian university 250 miles from home. After a full day of lugging in boxes and making multiple trips to the store for toilet paper, tools, and tape, there was still much left to be done. But we knew we had at least a three-hour trip home ahead of us, and it would soon be time to say goodbye.
I don’t know if she was stalling or her parents were (or both), but we kept finding one more task that had to be completed. The sun was setting as we made one final run for snacks to fill her dorm fridge before our heartfelt goodbyes. But somehow, as my daughter and I climbed the stairs to her second-floor room with the sodas, pudding, and ramen noodles, my husband lagged behind just enough to get caught on the wrong side of the door’s automatic curfew lock. He was stuck outside in the parking lot, barred from entry. I could leave, but as a student, she could not. It seemed there was no way we as a family could reunite.
In that pivotal moment, I forgot everything I wanted to say to my brand-new college girl. My heartbroken husband, locked outside, felt robbed of an opportunity to embrace and release his daughter. I fumbled a hug and sputtered a few words, then left. It was not at all the goodbye either of us had envisioned.
THE CHANGING ROLE OF A CHRISTIAN MOTHER
Though I was thankful to be on the inside of that dorm door, I knew it was only a matter of time before this door, too, would close for me. So many had already become inaccessible along the way.
Closed doors sting because our children began as part of us. But inevitably, we must separate. As we continue growing through our role as parents, we must slowly learn to respect closed doors—doors shut without a key for a reason.
A mother’s job is to prepare her child to go places she cannot go. When she forgets this, the doors remind her.
- The daycare Dutch door: just half a door really
- Kindergarten doors: always open if you want to visit
- The door to the surgery suite: allows company only for a little while
- The high school locker room door: too embarrassing to appear
- First date car doors: meant for only two
- The courthouse door marked “Traffic Ticket Division”: best for them to go alone
- The dorm room door: designed to start a permanent threshold
- Therapist’s office doors: with a HIPAA-sealed entry
- The front door of their first workplace: too foreign to walk through
- The front door of their own place: too far to frequent
LEARNING FROM THE MOTHERS IN THE BIBLE—AND THEIR DOORS
There are three prominent godly women in the Bible who provide an example to us of how to deal with doors closing and roles changing:
- Moses’ mother Jochebed sent him down the Nile without her.
- Jesus’ mother Mary left Him at the gateway to His ministry.
- Samuel’s mother Hannah left him at the temple door.
Each of these moms mentor us because they mirror us. Like us, these women likely yearned to hold onto keys that would allow them access into their children’s lives. I imagine they feared the bad influences, the danger, and the pain their children would surely endure. They may not have understood everything. And they may not have felt completely confident about the direction things seemed to be heading.
Yet as different as our lives are today, these mothers provide examples that lead us. These biblical moms respected the door, they stayed on their side, and they continued to mother in the ways they could.
3 WAYS TO PREPARE FOR THE CLOSING DOORS OF CHRISTIAN MOTHERHOOD
Following the lead of Jochebed, Mary, and Hannah, here are three steps mothers can take as doors start to close.
1. Accept the Inevitability (and Wisdom) of Closed Doors
“Being a mother of a son is like someone breaking up with you really slowly.” I relate deeply to those words from the movie “The Otherhood.”
When my son had his wisdom teeth removed, his girlfriend wanted to drive him to and from the appointment. It hit me hard that he would be undergoing a medical procedure without me there. But after a discussion with my husband, I agreed.
Our children growing up is the slowest breakup we’ve ever known. It’s like pulling a Band-Aid off in slow motion. You know it has to happen, but you always wonder if it’s really time. All the other deep loves in our lives are designed to get closer, but the parent-child one must first take a detour by dividing us.
As Debi Thomas wrote, “I wonder now if this is at once the most wonderful and most terrible thing one can say about a mother’s good gifts. The best gifts are costly. They wound. They send a child away.”
Moses’ mother knew about sending a child away.
When Jochebed gave birth to a healthy son, her worries were only beginning. After Pharaoh ordered all male Hebrew babies to be killed, she hid Moses for three months to protect him. Knowing that tactic wouldn’t be effective for long, she wove a basket and coated the bottom with waterproof tar. She placed her baby boy inside and set it among the reeds on the bank of the Nile River. Moses’ sister Miriam hid nearby to watch what would happen.
Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river when one of her maid-servants saw the basket and boy. Miriam bravely stepped in and asked if she could fetch a Hebrew woman to care for the baby. Miriam brought her mother Jochebed back to the princess as a nurse maid, and Moses’s own mother was allowed to care for her boy as he grew. Then—perhaps most difficult of all—Jochebed brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, releasing him to privileged care. Moses was raised in the palace as the princess’ own son.
Jochebed’s story is one of doors closing, opening, and then closing again. She let go of Moses, then she got him back, only to let go of him again. It is the story of every mother. Hers seemed a small role, but in her willingness to respect the closing doors, Jochebed made a huge impact on God’s story. Though I’m fairly certain Moses’ mom couldn’t see it at the time, her son was destined to lead the children of Israel out of slavery and to the Promised Land.
2. Name the Living Loss
Even when we accept that doors close for a reason, the shock of it actually happening can crater our souls. As moms, we are wired to gather in, to reconcile, to protect. Closing doors feel counter to that calling. We long for who our children were, even as we welcome the people they are becoming.
As in many areas of life, it helps to name the loss.
Psychologists now tout this theory, but the Bible mentioned the idea long ago. God has always encouraged us in naming our losses. Scripture holds many books that attest to a believer’s spoken loss: Lamentations, Psalms, Job, to name a few. Even Jesus labeled His feeling on the cross as “forsaken.”
It’s no different in mothering. The problem is we lose our children in pieces, sometimes in such small pieces we barely notice. Toddler to twenty-something, we parent dozens of different versions of the same child. They all answer to the same name. Each different version calls us mom. But the continuing transition is a living loss. We never see one version turning into the next. It’s impossible to perceive the child turning into the preteen. So we don’t say proper goodbyes to our hand-holding 3-year-old or our talkative 10-year-old. They just slowly, mysteriously fade into memory—until a door slams and jolts us into reality.
I imagine Mary felt this way when she left 12-year-old Jesus for three days at the temple. Or decades later when she witnessed her grown Son spend three days in a tomb. Though she understood He was growing into His mission, Mary lost Jesus in pieces until doors closed with her on the outside.
After Jesus was left at the temple, His mother admitted to being anxious and confused. I am sure she felt a little shut out of His life:
“When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them” (Luke 2:48-50, NIV).
The understanding gap was a loss Mary had to navigate. And it’s one all mothers eventually face when we don’t understand our child’s choice of major, friend, or location. But if we lean into the loss, we can prepare ourselves to continue mothering in a new way.
By naming the loss and admitting her hurt and confusion, Mary was more prepared to continue mothering an older version of Jesus, and eventually to follow Him to the cross.
3. Look For Windows
When her dad couldn’t return to her dorm room that first night, my daughter waved to him and blew him a kiss from her second-floor window. There were no wise words imparted and no notable sentiments to hold onto. But he still hangs onto that memory. I thought later she could have opened her window and called to him, but I don’t imagine it occurred to her at the time.
As our children grow, closed doors sometimes give way to windows.
No sound, no advice, no real presence unless they choose to crack it open. We can no longer undo, redo, and overdo on their behalf. We can only observe. And rather than try to enter a closed door, perhaps we need to find another way to be involved. We need to look for windows.
Hannah found a window when the door to raising her longed-for child closed. Note Hannah’s words as she brought her 3-year-old son, Samuel, to Eli the priest and left him to be raised in the temple:
“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28, NIV).
Like Jochebed and Mary, Hannah knew doors would come between her and her son. The closing temple door represented a new phase of mothering. When Hannah entrusted her tiny boy to God, she could have never known God’s plan for him. But she likely knew it wouldn’t include her in the same ways it had in the past.
God to use Samuel to change a nation. And Samuel first saw faith lived out through his mother—both through her words and through her obedient action of letting a door close. Yet, even though Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord, she was still a mom. And like every mom, she yearned for ways to be part of her son’s life. So she found a window.
“Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice” (Samuel 2:19, NIV).
Every year as Samuel grew on the other side of the temple door without her, Hannah made a coat the next size up and brought it to him. She dedicated the child to the Lord, yet she was still dedicated to taking care of the child, even as the distance widened.
GIFTS FOR MOMS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR
Closing doors are not all bad. Without them, our children wouldn’t grow into their full potential or personhood. And there are advantages to kids growing up. As parents, we get to see them as independent adults, loved by others, making the world a better place in their own unique way.
We can witness them having a successful career (even outside our own area of expertise), starting a nonprofit, becoming a church leader, getting married, or parenting little ones themselves one day. And we can continue mothering, albeit sometimes in creative ways. We can find our own windows into our growing children’s lives by utilizing video chats, UberEATS gift cards, or a deep apartment cleaning.
Windows like these can soften an otherwise harsh closed door. But remember, there are beautiful moments waiting for moms, even behind the closing doors.
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Beautiful advice for the challenge of letting go. I appreciate the imagery of doors and windows!
Thanks, Michele. As you know, those doors can be painful until we find a window to our growing child’s life. Momming never really ends!
Thank you, Lori. Your article arrived at exactly the right time. Full of wisdom and comfort for those on the other side of the door.
I love being part of God’s perfect timing. Thanks for letting know, Karen. Blessings from another momma peeking in from the window!
Beautifully said and a balm to this long distance Mom. Thank you.
So comforting to hear from a fellow long distance momma. It is a reality I was not prepared for, but thankfully, I am learning to adapt and lean on the Ultimate Parent. Blessings, Kim!