A few weeks ago I tearfully bade farewell to my 25-year-old daughter who has just joined the Peace Corps. She is now living in an underdeveloped country in Africa and will soon be assigned to a living situation that may or may not include electricity or running water.
How fortuitous that I happen to be reading Danielle Bean’s new book, Giving Thanks and Letting Go. It is comforting to read of another mother’s experience with these very uncomfortable, even distressing, feelings of seeing our children off.
Letting go of our children is a gradual process beginning with their birth. After birth, we are no longer able to protect our children within our own bodies. Once in the world, new and more dangerous possibilities become theirs. And yet no woman ever has wanted to keep her baby within the womb.
If a mother never let go of her child’s hand, he would never learn to walk. If we never let go of the two-wheel bike, even knowing there would be the inevitable fall, our children would never learn to ride a bike. There will be pain. There will be tears. And there will be risks. We accept the risks in order to applaud the victories. It is our responsibility to do so.
I remember when the oldest of my six children drove off alone for the first time in our family van. I had the strangest combination of both euphoria and terror. Euphoria because he had done it, he had completed his driver’s license. And now we had another driver in the family. Terror because he would now be facing tremendous risks to his safety every day, a risk he probably didn’t fully understand nor realize the importance of caution in mitigating.
Now that my children are all adults I have been through this scenario and confronted these maternal feelings many times. Twice I have sent my children from Michigan across the country to live in Texas. I have seen them leave for study in Rome, London, and Paris. (And I still don’t like that feeling of having an ocean between me and someone I cherish so much.) But I’ve gotten used to sending them off, knowing they are responsible adults with reasonably good judgment.
It’s been years since I have let go of this daughter in all the important ways. (I think.) I don’t give unasked-for advice. I try to respect her privacy and not pry with too many questions. Her decisions are her own and hers to make. Those are surface examples of letting go. What never leaves a mother is that desire to protect, to guide if there seems a need, and we just can’t turn off the tendency to worry and to desire from the depths of our hearts the well-being and the good for our children.
Sending my young daughter to an underdeveloped country in Africa takes all of these feelings to another whole level. No electricity, no running water? The diseases, the insects, the heat! I can’t even go there. I spent weeks quietly crying in fear for her well-being and safety. I tried to hide my concerns from her, but not always successfully. This is dealing with maternal emotions on steroids. Now she is gone for a two-year commitment and I must entrust her to the protection of God. There is nothing I can do to help, no words of unneeded advice. She knows all about her mission and is receiving extensive training. I know that she will come back a changed person. She will have felt heat unlike anything a Michigan girl experiences. She will never look at the world in the same way again. Her vision and her perspective will be greatly expanded. And she will be doing God’s work, reaching out a helping hand to those so much less fortunate than she. And as much as it hurts to have her gone, I am very, very proud of her.
I will send her things. I will write letters. Beyond that I am left with the simplest and most powerful way to support and help an adult child: Prayer. I can pray. I will not know what she is facing or what she is enduring. But God knows. I will not know how to help her. But God knows. I cannot protect her. From anything. But God can protect her from everything.
So I place my dear daughter in the hands of the Almighty, the Maker of all people, those who live in North America and those who live in Africa. May God be with her. May he give her grace, peace, and courage. May He supply all that she needs and may her work bear the fruit that He desires. I trust that He will guide her along this path. She belongs to Him and He is faithful. I let go of the bike years ago. I know she can ride well and I can no longer even see her. But God can. And He is good.
Copyright 2020 Rosemary Bogdan