Would the leaving have been easier if I had been leaving in a white dress, passed from your arm to the arm of my groom? Or would it always have hurt this much, us letting each other go?
We watched them act it two weekends ago, Andrea walking slowly down the central aisle, hand at rest on her father’s arm. She leaned in, whispered. He smiled, whispered back. At the front, an embrace, and Jason stepped solemnly forward, offered his own arm to lead his bride up the two steps to the platform where they promised themselves to each other.
The three were acting the words spoken soon after: a leaving, and the beginning of a new and permanent commitment. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife….”
The words came from Genesis 2. I heard their echo in the voice of Paul:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery, but I am speaking of Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)
I may not have walked the aisle and taken the arm of a husband, but I am still called to this same process: leaving you, and clinging with all of my self to the One who calls me His.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Jesus makes no exceptions:
“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. . .” (Matt 10:37)
I hope you can hear that Jesus’ harsh-sounding words aren’t diminishing parenthood but revealing its sanctity. You, for years, were like God to us, bringing us into being, carrying us in your body and heart, nourishing, defending, comforting, training. Your calling was unthinkably high: to be to us God with skin on. But every great calling is coupled to great danger. And the risk of being like God to us is that we confuse you with God. Perhaps I’ve been slow to see the danger because the better our parents image God to us, the greater our danger of confusing the two.
The risk is great so His words are strong. I am your God. Follow Me.
It is a painful process, this weaning from our parents. And not surprisingly. The bond between us had to be strong to sustain your constant self-giving. We’ve just watched a mom grieve when her littlest elected to wean himself. Her body ached, longing to give herself to him. Her heart ached at the sudden tearing away. Weaning from our parents is painful. But it is not optional.
You (rightly) stood for years as God incarnate to me; it is not surprising, then, that I easily confuse your voice with the voice of God. I may obey it or fight it, but still it is there, deep within, as the voice of God to be reckoned with. But Christ has made me His own, and asks me, now, to trust His voice above all others. And the shape of our life together - His and mine - must differ from the shape of His life in you. We are different people, different parts of Christ's body, and it’s hard for an elbow and a heart – no matter how well they live their own callings - to teach a kidney how to be a kidney. That’s why, at some point, God says to each of us, “Follow Me.”
“Follow Me.” His call is not to love you less but to love you more truly, to render to parents what is parents’ and to God what is God’s.
The switch of my highest allegiance from you to God can feel to me like betrayal or rejection; I’m seeing that it is, rather, the final fulfillment of your parenthood. You were ordained to show me God, to lead me to Him. Without my final movement from you to the one true God, my loving attachment to you slides into unintended idolatry. To love God truly, I must let God be God in my life. To love you truly, I must let you be human – always precious, always loved (perhaps more dearly now than ever), but without the authority to determine the path of my life. Leading me to God but not, in the end, yourselves God.
Jesus’ harsh-sounding words? They honor you. (“You’ve been like Me to your kids.”) And they set you free. (“. . .and now you can release them into My care.”) They set you free, and they set me free too. (“You’re Mine. You answer to Me alone.”)
The questions are myriad. How will this look in real life? (The how-to follows when our heart is all His.) Didn’t I leave you when I moved across the world? (Did I just leave your presence or did I become all God’s? Where am I still living by your words in my head, your way of loving me the best you knew how thirty or thirty-five years ago, rather than by His words, calling and loving me now?)
All the big questions in life, I think, end up in this final question: “Will you trust Me?” I share, below, the form in which He’s asking those questions now because . . . well, because I love you and I love to share with you. And, maybe, hearing His questions will remind us both that I’m not just running away from your arm by myself into the wide world, but am embracing you, loving you forever, while leaving your arm for the arm of the One who has chosen to make me His own and who promises to care for me for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health far beyond the death than can never separate either you or me from His love.
With so much love, and deep gratefulness that you’re my parents,
1. Will you trust Me with your parents? Will you trust that I am able and eager to meet your parents’ deepest needs - so that you don't have to try to do or be anything more to them than I ask you to?
2. Will you trust me with yourself? Will you trust that I am able and eager to meet your deepest needs - so you don't have to depend on your parents for affirmation, identity, or security?
3. Will you trust that I am able and eager to shape you into the person I've created you to be? Will you trust me enough with this to follow Me out of the patterns and norms you've grown up with that are now holding you back?
Come, my love. Follow Me.