Letting Go

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018.

John 17:6-19

Acts 1:1-11

It seems like just yesterday that my daughter Abby would, upon getting out of the car in a parking lot, reach up to grasp my index finger with her tiny hand, so I could lead her safely to our destination. Even though Abby stopped looking for my finger to hold onto over a decade ago, I somehow still imagined that I could always offer her something to hold on to that would assure her safety.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I would not and could not always be there to protect Abby from harm until two years ago. That illusion evaporated before my eyes right here in the parking lot of this church.

Abby was thirteen years old, and right downstairs outside Palmer Hall, at about 8 o’clock in the evening, after an orientation for the upcoming mission trip, Abby climbed into the back seat of our car. The window of an SUV parked next to us was lowered, and two smiling girls, who I would later learn were Gabby DiCarlo and Natalie McDonough, called out, “Hey, can Abby come with us for Mexican food? We’ll take good care of her; we promise.” No doubt looking like proverbial deer in the headlights, Lourdes and I stuttered, “Sure, I guess so!” And in the blink of an eye, Abby was gone! We were left to wonder, what have we done? Will we ever see our daughter again?

Lourdes and I ended up waiting in the Puerto Vallarta parking lot for Abby to emerge after her meal. She came out bubbling with excitement about being out on her own with older girls. After listening to her talk happily about the things Gabby and Natalie taught her about high school boys, I couldn’t resist asking her if Gabby was a good driver. “She’s an awesome driver!” Abby responded, “Some biker dude tried to pass us and cut us off, but Gabby sped up and totally flipped him off!”

Just like that, Abby released her hold on my index finger to follow the middle finger of another. And so began the process of letting go.

On this Mother’s Day, I have been inspired by both of the Bible passages I read to reflect upon motherhood, more broadly, parenthood, and more specifically, the challenge parenting presents to letting go of our children.

I acknowledge up front that it is impossible to speak to every mother or parent’s experience. There was a time when some churches would steer clear of Mother’s Day reflections, not wanting to hurt those who feel conflicted on this day, whether because of a difficult relationship with a mother or child, the loss of a mother or child, or an unfulfilled desire to be a mother. But I hope the lessons we find in this morning’s Bible verses will speak, not only to mothers and parents, but to all who struggle to let go of who and what we love.

So, without presuming to speak for everyone, I think I can safely say that the vast majority of parents want their children to one day grow up to live successfully and happily apart from us. I can’t imagine any mother or parent, at their child’s birth, not having this dream for their child.

This morning we celebrated two baptisms, and I don’t doubt that the Beals and the Veales share this deep desire for their babies, that they grow up able to live and find happiness on their own.

Baptism, affirms God’s participation in the fulfillment of this hope for our children. Baptism reminds us that the Holy Spirit is already working in the lives of these little ones to one day lead them beyond their parents’ protective and nurturing arms to fulfill God’s promise for their lives, that Jesus’ joy may be made complete in them.

The last thing I want to do is detract from this hopeful vision, but I expect it comes as no surprise that the years of child rearing beyond baptism come with a sizeable portion of parental anxiety. Not that parents don’t worry about our children at every age, but just as Lourdes and I learned two years ago, there is a particular kind of angst that sets in as our children begin to test their wings in preparation for one day, leaving our nest.

Though Abby now regularly catches rides with friends, and we are often grateful for the flexibility this provides all of us, that first ride from the church two years ago marked the beginning of a terrifying process of letting go that confronts most every parent.

Both readings this morning speak to this process of letting go.

In the four gospels, John alone includes a long speech by Jesus to his disciples at what we have come to call the Last Supper. Jesus knows that he will soon be leaving them and is preparing his disciples to let go. These verses I read from Chapter 17 are part of Jesus’ prayer to God for his disciples.

Anticipating Mother’s Day, I heard Jesus’ prayer as if from a mother for her children, praying for their well-being as they prepare to live without her. I paraphrase Jesus’ prayer:

I will not be in the world much longer, but they will still be here without me…While I was with them, I protected them, Holy One, I now ask that you protect them…I say these things while I am still here, so that they can share completely in my joy…My prayer is that they participate fully in all the world offers while being protected from all its danger and evil.

Jesus’ words are filled with deep love and concern, like a mother for her children.

The Book of Acts picks up the story following Jesus’ death and resurrection. After his resurrection, Jesus appears among his disciples for forty days, then gathers them one last time before being taken up to heaven. Luke, the author of Acts writes, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”

With Jesus’ departure imminent, the disciples still want reassurance that everything is going to be OK, “is this the time you will restore the kingdom of Israel?” Just as a parent desires reassurance that their child will be OK, the disciples desire certainty. Instead, Jesus says trust the Holy Spirit. And he is gone.

Abby is only fifteen, but I imagine that this worry for our kids never ends. I imagine I will always want to be able to extend my index finger for Abby to hold onto, to lead her beyond danger to safety. And yet I know that this is not my purpose as a parent. We are meant to prepare our kids to venture across the parking lot of life without us, to face darkness and danger and find their own way back to safety and light.

We do what we can do to prepare them, and are asked to trust God with the rest, not to take them out of the world, but to protect them from evil and make their joy complete in the world. To send them forth with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday, Lourdes was talking to the mother of Abby’s boyfriend, Nate; they were talking Junior Prom, matching the color of Abby’s dress to the color of her Nate’s bowtie – (boyfriends, another exercise in letting go). I shared the topic of my sermon with Nate’s mom, Beth, and asked her how she responds to the challenges of letting go.

She affirmed that as difficult as it is, her calling as a mother is to prepare her kids to lead fulfilling lives on their own. And she said that every day, as she watches Nate walk to the bus stop she says this prayer:

Dear God, Watch over him, guard him and guide him. Help him be a good student for his teachers, a good friend to his peers, a good citizen of the earth, and a good child of God. Lord, when he’s faced with difficult decisions and tempted by darkness, please lead him down the right and just path in your Son’s name. Amen.

And I offer this prayer for mothers and parents.

Dear God, Watch over us, guard us and guide us. Help us be good teachers for our children, good role models as citizens, spouses and friends, good examples as faithful followers of Jesus, and most of all good parents to our children. When we are faced with difficult parenting decisions and tempted by darkness, please lead us down the right path in your Son’s name, that we may one day let go and entrust our precious children to you. Amen.

 

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Published in: on May 18, 2018 at 4:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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