My son got paid to go to church. And I’m not talking about payment in the form of hugs or smiles or coffee hour cookies. The thing that got him to worship on Sunday mornings his senior year in high school and then again his senior year in college was cold hard cash. But lest you judge my husband’s and my parenting strategies, we didn’t pay him and he didn’t attend our churches. Dubbed a “choral scholar,” in both places, he was paid to sing in the choir. The only way he would go to church was for the money, but at least it got him there.
I enjoyed Miriam’s post last week about her (almost) 21 year-old daughter’s faith. Having grown up in the church with two parents as priests, neither of our twenty-something children attend worship now on a regular basis. Our job now is to trust that we planted seeds that will germinate later. We need, in Miriam’s words, to trust that they will find faith that is “authentically theirs.” I join her in praying that someday they will reconnect with why church matters. In the meantime, our job is to trust God. And, then, our job is to let go.
I’ve learned over the years that letting go is one of the primary and most challenging practices of parenting: Handing our infant into the arms of a babysitter for the first time; dropping him off for the first day of preschool, watching her board the school bus for kindergarten. Then there is the wave goodbye as he heads off to summer camp. Just a few years later, we hand her the car keys as she leaves for her first solo drive after getting her drivers license. Then there are the overseas mission trip send-offs and moving into the freshman dorm.
I guess that letting go is especially on my mind right now. My son graduated from college last week, and just a few days later, we put him on a plane bound for Boston and his first “real” job. I have been resisting the temptation to text him: “How’s it going?” “Did you get lost your first time on the T?” “Have you found an apartment yet?” And then I start wondering if he is making his bed at his temporary home with his aunt and uncle. And, hopefully he’s remembered to transfer money into his bank account. And, did he remember his contact lenses supply? And, then I say to myself “Let go.”
The saying that we need to give our children both roots and wings is sometimes over-used. But it is so, so true. These letting go moments are when we trust that the hidden roots we gave them are deep enough to ground them, and then we watch them fly away.
On the surface, it is our children we are letting go of. But, the truth is, we are letting go of so many other things in the process. Indeed, letting go is a spiritual practice. We let go of our worries and our expectations. We sometimes even have to let go of our hopes and our dreams, in order for our children to move forward to fulfill their own.
I suppose, like all spiritual practices, the best way to cultivate letting go is just that – to practice. The following are some suggestions – most of which I’ve learned the hard way!
Let go of perfection. I have to admit I did bribe my children to get them to church on Sunday mornings. The promise to stop at the bakery for a glazed donut on the way got them going when I was desperate. Trust that you are a good enough parent and your children are good enough kids.
Let go of control. We cannot mold them into exactly what we want them to be or make them do what we want them to do.
Let go of keeping up with the Jones’. There will always be times when other people’s kids seem smarter or more athletic or more polite. Comparing our children with others’ children or our parenting with that of others is never helpful.
Let go of knowing. We cannot map our our children’s lives. We can only watch in wonder as they grow into the unique human beings that God created them to be.
Let go of the small stuff. We can so easily get stuck on or preoccupied with things that don’t really matter.
Like so many spiritual practices, we model letting go with our children. In doing so, we model our trust in God “…in whom we live and move and have our being.” That, of course, is what letting go is all about for us: trusting that they will fly on the wings of the Holy Spirit and that God will never, ever let go of them.
What does letting go of your children look like for you?