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You never get used to it. Not really.

These are the words I need to say to the young parents seated in a circle around us. It’s August, and my husband and I are teaching a four-week elective Sunday mornings on raising children. We’ve had our turn, trusted to grow three seedlings from scratch plus a couple more who arrived half-grown. All grown now and all gone.

Now it’s their turn, these fervent younger moms and dads. They ask deeply thoughtful questions about strong-willed children and soft-hearted parents. About how to have family time constructed from sturdy stuff when jobs and schools and committees fray away at the seams. About technology and the teen years and how to say you’re sorry.

All good, that. All necessary, mostly. Because they already know by heart what matters best: the way that sprout in your arms can tender the toughest of hearts. The mathematical wonder of loving the second or third or sixth one as much as the first. The magical multiplication of time to care for each new life that slips into yours when the first already took up every moment you had.

So we talk about it all, and then some. But we don’t tell these bright young parents what’s barreling towards them on the other side of the highway. It will get here soon enough.

And you never get used to it. Not really.

But there were clues, weren’t there? We ought to have been suspicious.

It was that wave as your boy disappeared into the yellow maw of a bus his first day of school. It was the fist raised in triumph as your girl clutched that rolled tube of paper on her last. It was the kiss blown over a shoulder as you sat in that front pew all decked out with your eyes leaking.

A child’s coming day is marked with celebration, at least for the lucky ones who know they are loved. But the going days? How do you let someone go when they take your heart with them?

The woman Jesus called mother knew all about that.

Last year I sat on a hill overlooking Nazareth thinking about her. It seemed the right place for pondering. How hard it must have been for Mary. When the overshadowing came, she became pregnant. But it wasn’t until she relinquished the plans she had for her child in favor of His that she truly became a mother.

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Nazareth, ISRAEL – May 2014

I can see her there, standing atop that same hill. Stepping to the side of his life when her son began his public ministry. Standing on the fringe of the crowds, raising an unsteady hand in farewell.

It’s what we do, isn’t it. We hold our offspring close, and then we let them go.

They grow up. The baby can’t stay in the manger forever. The Savior entered the world as an infant and left as a man – fully flesh and fully God. He left his family behind with a promise – the separation was only temporary. The world is pregnant with his coming again.

So those kids who are all grown and all gone? Those hands raised in fare-thee-well? Here’s what we have to tell younger parents:

They’ll come back to you again, yes they will. With arms full of love and learning and maybe even holding the hand of someone new who will root right into your heart.

The world is full of comings and goings. But you make the most of all that comes, and the least of all that goes.

So we hold them close, and then we let them go.

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Streator, Illinois – 1959