It’s one of the hardest tasks of parenting: letting go of the people you’ve held onto so tightly for their whole lives, putting your trust in God to take care of them. Our adult children don’t need us in the same way they did when they were kids, but that doesn’t mean the role we play in their lives loses its significance. Here’s how to let go of your grown child while still loving them deeply.
A few years ago, as Advent slipped into view, I began slowly dragging out a smattering of Christmas decor. While I was in the attic, I came across a page I had kept from a Christmas coloring book.
It was a picture of the baby Jesus with His new parents under the star of Bethlehem, carefully colored by my 3-year-old daughter and then adorned with a baby chick sticker. The chick seemed out of place and out of season, with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child. But she always loved animals. And who knows? There might have been chickens in that manger.
Every time my daughter visited a petting zoo as a preschooler, she was first drawn to the baby chicks. I was always in fear. Not for my child, but for the tiny birds. I just knew she would either hold the chicks too loosely, drop them to the ground, and give them brain damage. Or, hold them too tightly and squish them.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, it was the second concern that proved more valid.
LOOSENING OUR GRIP
When we love and value something, it comes natural to hold it closely to try to protect it. We hold most tightly what we treasure most. But more often than not, our grip can ruin our treasure. Like that baby chick, or Halloween candy hoarded long past spring, we hold too tightly and they become worthless in the end.
But what we love deeply we can’t completely let go of either. We must, instead, learn to hold it loosely.
Against our nature, God calls us to hold our blessings loosely: jobs, health, relationships, family, financial security. He asks us to unclench the white-knuckle grip on these things and cling tightly to Him—holding everything (and everyone) else loosely.
No one knew more about this than Job. Job with his children and his property and his wealth—and then suddenly without.
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21b, NIV).
Job knew about loving deeply. He even rose early every morning to offer sacrifices to God in case his children had sinned unknowingly. He always honored God. And I believe he could only do so by holding things loosely.
Job knew that God’s glorious potential for a life can only sit in the palm of an unclenched hand. Honoring God requires that your hand remain open, even after the blessing. Because the blessings can never be allowed to replace our God, or our God’s all-knowing purpose.
By loosening our grip, we acknowledge that God knows more and cares more for us (and our children) than we could ourselves. We’re saying to our faith-proven Father, “I trust You more than I trust myself.”
REAL LIFE LETTING GO
This baby-chick-loving daughter grew up to attend college in southern California, 1500 miles away from home. Weeks before the discovery of her coloring page in the attic, I was scrolling through social media. I stopped on a post from her roommate, saying to pray for the victims of the shooting. I felt a canyon form, then widen, in my stomach. As quickly as my home internet could churn, I started googling for information.
The unthinkable unfolded on my computer screen, and then on national news throughout the day. Thirteen people were killed in a mass shooting. A young woman from my daughter’s college was among the victims at a popular student dance spot.
The tragedy took place only minutes from my daughter’s off-campus apartment. It was one of the safest places to live in the US, until that day.
What could I say to my girl so far away about something neither of us could understand?
My momma heart did what momma hearts do, and it broke for my child. Just like our God does for us, we feel what our children feel, whether we choose to intervene or not. We bleed for them in an attempt to save them from this messy world.
I wanted nothing more than to hold her tight and keep her within my sight.
Just hours after my best effort to console her, she called to say she was under a mandatory evacuation order from her apartment due to a nearby wildfire. Still hurting from the earlier tragedy, we talked about what she should pack. I told her not to worry about every little thing.
“Take what you might need for an overnight trip,” I said. I was sure they were evacuating the students out of an abundance of caution.
That’s not the first time my parental instinct went awry. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.
Later came pictures of her apartment complex surrounded by flames, firefighters running hoses to nearby hills, with the entire campus and city under fiery siege. Hundreds of memory-laden homes and hard-earned businesses—gone. Unexpected, unprecedented, and unbelievable, even to those accustomed to southern California wildfires.
I watched in disbelief as live news covered the students sheltering in place in the university library—flames visible from the building’s windows. I spent several nights in bed with my phone, watching helicopter reports of the disaster, tabulating the fire’s containment, waiting for the next text or call from her.
As the nightmare week ended, my grown girl got off an airplane, walked through our front door, and into my arms. I was keenly aware that another momma’s girl did not. And that many other families that seemed as familiar as mine, no longer had a front door to walk through.
When my daughter got home, she had the clothes she was wearing and an extra shirt. She couldn’t wait to change out of the socks she’d had on for four days. Even still, she acknowledged she was a ‘best case scenario’—one of the lucky ones.
HOLDING EVERYTHING WITH AN OPEN HAND
That same little girl who learned to hold the chick loosely was learning to hold other things loosely as well. And, reading again the story of Job’s catastrophic losses and unshakeable faith, so was I.
After Thanksgiving, I sent her back to scorched southern California. Only days later, classes were cancelled again and evacuations were ordered for mudslides and flooding. They warned about life-threatening debris flow through the Santa Monica mountains she drove daily to campus.
Instead of panicking, I had open hands and ‘holding loosely‘ on my mind. And I realized it applied to pretty much all of life.
As I recounted the details of my daughter’s ordeal, I thought of a world of people facing hollow holidays without loved ones. Good friends and sisters who have buried children and husbands and lives they once knew. Thousands who have lost homes and security. Brutal holding and letting go rhythms. Pain I can’t pretend to understand.
Releasing my daughter from our final hug so she could get on that plane to return to college post-tragedies, I had felt an intention to clench. But living had taught me to let her go. Because it is only in the letting go that we can receive the blessings God has in mind for us, and for our children.
Unfathomable as it can be at times, open hands prepare us for the greater potential we might miss. As David Benham says, “God’s not going to give you what’s in His hand until you let go of what’s in yours.”
Because when we open our hands, we create space for Him.
THE BALANCE OF LOVE AND LETTING GO
Advent helps us see what Job already knew, that deep love and holding loosely are the same thing. For God so loved the world—Spirit-filled words from an Author who knows all about letting a Child go.
By sending His perfect Son, God demonstrated this loosely held love and extended it to us. His holding love, tethered to each of us by the loose strands of free will. Boundless love forever guaranteed, if we choose to make room for Him in our open hands.
God understands the careful balance that deep love and holding loosely requires. I was starting to understand it in a larger context, too.
Continuing to unpack our family Christmas ornaments, I opened a box of my favorite ones, those I had wrapped extra carefully. The plastic bubble wrap did not coexist well with the August attic heat. My treasures were ruined. The ones I had tried most intently to protect, I had lost. I smoothed the wrinkled coloring page with my daughter’s carefully drawn name and unseasonal sticker on it. Tracing the crayon strokes, I prayed for her safety. And that she’d make it back home for Christmas.
I was relieved that I hadn’t overprotected her unlikely masterpiece; that, instead, I had held it loosely. And I had a new appreciation for the sticker my wise 3-year-old had chosen all those years ago. Maybe that little chick wasn’t so out of place in the manger after all.
How could you be more intentional about holding the important things and people in your life more loosely? By loving deeply yet holding loosely, how might we, as moms, more fully experience God’s blessing—both in our lives and the lives of our children?
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You’re speaking right into my season of life today, Lori! Blessings to you in the loving and in the letting go.
So encouraged that it spoke to you. And so thrilled to know a fellow letting-go mom. Have a wonderful week.
I ditto Michele. What a beautiful – and much needed post for me! This season is tougher than I thought and I held too tightly and sharp teeth snapped- ouch! Lesson learned. Thank you!
I so get the tight grip! It’s something we intentional mommas have to unlearn, I think. Blessings to you as we both walk these turbulent waters!
Thank you for sharing! I am just ending the college years with my kids and now know how totally unprepared I was to let them go! Some days the emptiness feels suffocating and some days I’m so grateful to see them as strong adults serving Christ. I don’t know if life will ever feel normal again or if you every fully recover from letting them go, I’m just taking it day by day praying that Jesus will fill all the empty spaces!
Oh, that sounds so familiar! I dreaded the day my nest would be completely empty. And there were some difficult days and months, for sure. I am now expecting my first grandchild and my daughter is scooting up close again. Trusting God has a bigger plan for you than you can dream for yourself in this new phase of life.
This is very eye opening for me! I always thought it would be my children and I standing together against all odds.
It’s hard to understand when they are the center of your life and they grow up to have their own lives.
Wish I would have seen this 10+ years ago. Though still good today!
Lori, thanks for writing this!
I wish I’d seen this phase of life coming, too. I felt unprepared for the transition. I always imagined the part about having little ones at home but never the part about the empty nest. Thankful we both have adjusted to our changing roles. Great to hear from you!