In her bitterness [Hannah] prayed to the LORD, weeping freely, and made this vow: “O LORD of hosts, if you look with pity on the hardship of your servant, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life. No razor shall ever touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:10-11)
In the midst of infertility, I found myself on my knees praying the words that Hannah prayed centuries before, though I skipped the part about the razor. I was 26 and I wasn’t exactly sure what I was promising, but still, I meant it and the truth of it shook me right there on my knees on a worn bedroom carpet, my teary eyes gazing at the pattern of the quilt on my bed. I remember that I shuddered a bit before standing up. I had made an irrevocable vow, and I knew it.
When my son was born about a year later, I was intentional about understanding and owning my beliefs in order to pass truth on to him, and I found that faith was much bigger and more colorful than I’d been taught. Once I met Jesus, I was all-in on gaining relationship with Him and on raising my son up to God as I’d promised.
My mother knew my son was special from the start. She had a gift of prophecy that was sometimes eerily correct and sometimes laughably wrong, but she always thought my son would live a big life, and that he’d tell lots of people about God. She never said what form that role might take, but it was something I believed as my son grew to be a 4-year-old who built out Bible scenes with blocks and figurines and made plans to open a free store for anyone who needed help. Once, during quiet prayer with my husband, my son answered a question aloud that my husband had been silently asking God in his mind with complete understanding and specificity. God was talking and my son was listening.
Like Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, my son grew in wisdom, age, and grace, and after high school, started at the small Catholic college where my husband works and which had become a spiritual home. We rejoiced at the goodness of God. Surely I had completed the work of my vow; I raised my son up to God the best I could and then delivered him into the hands of Jesus and His Mother on the campus of that special school where he’d find the work of his hands. My work was done, my promise fulfilled.
I was wrong.
In the second year of college, things fell apart for my beloved son in a way I could never have anticipated and which affected his life and ours in every way you can imagine. The months that followed were a roller coaster of concern, contingency, worry, and questioning. I can remember several nights on my knees crying out to God, literally sobbing, yelling, and what my Irish ancestors would call keening. There was begging and negotiating and helping and misunderstanding and there was no peace. We were missing each other completely as our once-close relationship soured, and I was at the end of my faith, begging God to finally help, to intercede, to rescue us. I had done my part and I was angry that God was not doing His.
Things are different now by the grace of God, better in many ways and my son is standing on his own, but this child’s road is not at all what I thought it would be. You might be wondering where the bravery is in this story that’s so filled with agony, dashed hopes, hysterics, and pain, and I’ll tell you. During each one of those terrible days that stretched through almost two years of suffering, I knew that what God was calling me to was to let go of my son, finally and completely in submission and trust to His will, and I couldn’t do it. I’d often say that if my son ran off a cliff, then I’d go over with him because how can you ever separate yourself from your child, even when he’s begging you to do it? Even when it’s God’s most primary call on your life?
As my son prepared to move out on his own last month, I’d imagine myself in prayer at the door of the Father’s house with my baby boy in my arms. I had a list of instructions as you’d have for a babysitter and as Jesus stretched out His arms, I’d shrink back and say, “Oh, please, please don’t drop him. Don’t let him fall.” And God couldn’t promise me that my son wouldn’t fall but He did promise that he’d never ever be alone.
It wasn’t enough for me and I held him tighter. As I continued in prayer, God reminded me that my son had a big mission and that everything that had happened, though it’s so hard to believe at times, was part of that plan. In order for my son to live the life he was called to live, I had to let him go. There was no choice in the matter.
In my mind’s eye, Mary the Mother of God was standing behind her Son, and Jesus pointed to her and said that Mary would mother my son as her own. She’d hold him in her protection, feed him what he most needed to take in, cleanse him from the pain of the past, teach him the things he needed to learn, and show him how to walk on his own two feet. She’d be his mother as he grew into the calling that God had for him and I could feel the prompting of God to let my son go into His hands with the help of His mother.
In my prayer, I sighed and wrapped up my precious baby boy who holds my heart and my hopes and dreams. I kissed him on the forehead and looked into his eyes and handed him to God who loves him even more than I do, and I walked out the door. I gave my son to the Lord for all of his days, just as I promised I would all those years ago. Entrusting my child to Jesus through Mary — it was the hardest and bravest thing I’ve ever done.
Copyright 2019 Kerry Campbell