The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps–Prov. 16:9.
I have two young children plus two foster children living at my house right now, yet my house feels strangely empty. We dropped our nine-year-old daughter off for her first week at sleep-away camp yesterday, and my mama heart beat anxiously as we pulled away.
She didn’t even want to say goodbye. In fact, I embarrassed her when I tried to pull her into a hug, and she slapped my hand away when I went to put an arm around her shoulder.
I am not the kind of mom who is constantly on top of her children. They are allowed to ride bikes and walk down to the neighbor’s house in our neighborhood as long as they stay together. Our street is a double cul-de-sac, so we don’t have a lot of traffic, and all of the neighbors know each other and watch out for one another. I am not afraid to take my kids to the park. My kids are allowed to spend the night with a very select group of friends. I drop them off at church on Wednesday nights and go back home to get some work done when I need to.
But something about dropping my daughter off for five whole days without any way to communicate with her unless in an emergency set my mama heart beating wildly. I felt sick. Anxiety washed over me like a tidal wave, and I cried as we drove down the mountain.
The truth is that I have been battling with our decision to send her to camp for months now. I know the camp well because it is where I went from age nine all the way up through adulthood. It’s a wonderful camp, and I know the staff. The camp is only an hour and a half away from home, and my wonderful and responsible niece is in my daughter’s room. But still, I knew that I wasn’t going to be there, and that is the part that is hard for me.
Control. It’s what gives us moms a false sense of security. Whether it has to do with making sure our children only eat organic food or apply hand sanitizer after touching absolutely every germ-covered item they can find, we have a false sense of control. We may think we are protecting them from the harmful rays of the sun by lathering them up with sunblock (also organic) and layering them so that not one inch of skin is showing, yet we are living with a false sense of control. We fret over school choice and friend choice, but we are still living with a false sense of control. And we imagine all of the terrible, horrible, awful things that can happen to our child at a camp that has successfully been in operation for over fifty years.
As my husband and I prepared over the last few months to send our first-born to camp, I constantly found myself praying that God would help me to trust Him. It’s not about trusting my parenting abilities or my daughter’s ability to be on her own for a week or even the counselor and staff who are available around the clock in case she needs anything. It’s about trusting God.
That’s the real problem we are facing in today’s culture. Over and over, I am watching as children are growing up into adults who have absolutely no idea how to function in today’s world. We don’t want to “ruin” their childhood by preparing them to leave us. In fact, as I speak to college students in different situations, the common theme I am hearing is that their parents won’t let them. In fact, I just spoke to one girl whose parents wouldn’t let her drive. She is a sophomore in college!
While I am not at that level of parenting yet, I find myself struggling with my own issues of control. If I don’t send her off to camp now, then when? If I don’t release my hold on her just a little bit each time she has an opportunity to learn something new or stretch her “wings” a little bit, then how will she ever learn how to fly on her own? And if I can’t trust God with my children, then how can I teach them that He is worthy of their trust?
I miss her terribly. I am struggling with not knowing what she is doing right now. Did she remember to brush her teeth this morning? Did one of her friends hurt her feelings? Is she eating well? Is she having fun? Is she homesick?
Honestly, I have never had control over my children’s lives. From the moment of conception, I was not a part of their growth, nutrition, or prenatal care. Once a month, I was able to visit their birth mom, feel their baby kicks, and hope for the best. I had no control over what she put into her body, so I just had to pray that God would protect them and help them to grow as they should. And they have all turned into beautiful children–by the grace of God.
As we have begun the journey as foster parents, we have even less control over what happens to the children who become a part of our family for such a short time. We don’t have a say over where they attend school or whether or not they are vaccinated or even whether someone can post a picture of them on social media. They are ours, yet they aren’t. We love them and take care of them, but we have no control over them.
All over the news and social media are stories of parents who thought they were in control but are now mourning the loss of their child. They had the baby gates up and thought their child was in their crib, but an hour later, emergency personnel are fishing a toddler’s body out of the lake nearby. They thought they knew their teenager was happy and easy-going, yet they are now reeling from a suicide that occurred after their child suffered years of bullying at school. They did all they could to keep harmful chemicals away from their child and only fed their baby organic food, but cancer is still eating away at his body anyway.
I don’t say these things to scare you or to make you stop looking out for your child’s well-being! Organic, healthy food is a great option. Taking precautions to make sure your baby is safe is absolutely essential. And talking to your teens about what is happening in their lives is a must.
But we also need to realize when we can back off a little bit. We need to realize that our children are just ours for a short time. It is our responsibility to love them well and to teach them how to leave us. That’s our job. And we have to trust that they are in God’s hands.
I am writing this to myself as well. This is hard for me. I prayed so long and so hard to become a mom that it is hard for me to let them go. It is hard for me to not want to drive back up the mountain and bring my girl home. But what would that accomplish? For one thing, she would be incredibly embarrassed and upset with me. She might even resent me for awhile. She would miss out on the amazing opportunity to make new friends from other places. She would miss learning how to study God’s Word. She wouldn’t get a chance to enjoy sliding down the Super Slip-n-Slide or tubing down the river or hiking to the falls. And she wouldn’t have a chance to grow into herself a little bit more and gain just a little bit more confidence in going out and conquering the world for God. While I might feel better having her home with me, I would really be doing more harm than good. She wants to be a traveling missionary nurse some day, so I have to start letting go of her now in order to encourage her to follow the path that God has planned for her future.
So while I stay home and fret over her this week, I am just “praying without ceasing” and trusting God. He’s got her in His hand, and nothing that happens to her is out of His control.
The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned, so shall it be,
and as I have purposed, so shall it stand”–Is. 14:24.
P.S. Don’t laugh, but we are going up to see her tomorrow night for Fun Night, so it’s not like I’m even going five days! Baby steps, right?=)