“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” ~ Rumi
I am experiencing the pains of childbirth. There’s nausea and sleepless nights, angst and expectation, worry and wonder. When I was here seventeen years ago, I looked forward to holding the baby I was carrying. Now, I anticipate letting him go. My son, Seth, is a senior in high school, and soon he will be moving out and moving on. I will be giving birth to him once again, and it hurts.
Seth, my firstborn, taught me to be a mother. During our early years together, I was on shaky ground. I felt unsure of my ability to do any of this well, and the thought of failing him wrecked me. However, as he grew, so did I. I have a memory of holding his little hands as he took his first tentative steps in our backyard. He clung to me for assurance that he wouldn’t fall. In time, he became confident that his legs would carry him, and I did the same.
I have watched Seth walk courageously and confidently through childhood and youth. Anyone who doesn’t think this journey requires both qualities has forgotten what middle school was like! Along the way Seth has changed schools, gained and lost friends, faced struggles, experienced heartbreak, and taken plenty of risks. Along the way I have changed, lost, struggled, and risked too. My journey seems intertwined with this beloved boy of mine.
During the past year I have had the pleasure of making several college visits with Seth. Sometimes his dad and brother go with us, and sometimes it is just the two of us. These are my favorite times. On the car rides to and from college campuses, our conversations meander like the highways we follow. We talk about school, work, friends, and faith. We talk about the future and what it might hold for him. As he dreams, I see his eyes light up with thoughts of the possibilities.
At each campus we visit, Seth imagines the life he might have there: dorm living, courses of study, jobs, and social dynamics. It’s all so exciting. As I watch him, my heart swells while at the same time breaking. I can dream along with him, but I know the day will come when his dad and I will take him to the college of his choice, unpack his things, bless him, and say goodbye.
I can’t go with him; I will have to let go.
It is not hard for me to trust that my son will be okay. I have watched Seth closely, and I realize that he is ready to fly. His wings are strong. Here is my confession: I am not sure that I will be okay. I expect to see Seth soar, yet I fear that I will see him soar away from me. And I am not sure that my wings are strong enough to carry me beyond these precious years of mothering him. I imagine an empty place in my nest, and it fills me with grief.
In the past this fear and grief would have terrified me. It would have shut me down, or I would have shut it down. In doing so, I denied my emotions and deadened my heart. Brené Brown explains, “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” This is so true, yet there has been an even greater cost to this denial than a loss of heart. There’s been spiritual isolation and the sense that this journey is up to me.
On his blog, Become Good Soil, Morgan Snyder writes, “We’ve guarded our hearts from feeling either joy or grief robustly and therefore forfeited a deeper revelation of the Father’s heart and personality and who He wants to be for us and with us.” I no longer want to live this way. I long to let my guard down and trust that God will meet me, support me, and sustain me. I’m learning to trust that on the other side of the fear and grief is deep joy. I want the joy…even if it means I have to journey along the razor’s edge of fear and grief.
When Seth was first learning to walk, he would stand, facing away from me, and reach his arms high. He knew that my hands would be there for his little fingers to grasp tightly. We would move in step with one another, slowly and carefully inching forward. Eventually, Seth loosened his grip, dropped his arms, and toddled forward on his own. I watched his back as he moved away from me, and I filled with pride at his determination, accomplishment, and independence.
I am still standing there, watching my son. He stands tall, looks ahead, and moves forward confidently. It’s a beautiful sight. And, though he has let go, he knows I am there. Now, I release my grip. I test my own legs and realize that they, too, are strong and steady. I look toward the journey ahead…my journey. The Father beckons me to follow, so I take a faithful step forward and begin to move toward joy.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.