Giving Them Back


If you love something, let it go free.

If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.

If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.


I never really liked this drippy little high-school saying.  It best describes an injured wild bird that someone nurses back to health and then watches flit away, never to return, despite the tenderness that has been showered upon it.  Then again, maybe children are like this, too.  We spend our best years nurturing, teaching, and loving them, and then let them go free.  Maybe they will return someday—but certainly never to be “ours” forever.  And even if they do return, I have to realize that they were never mine to begin with.

The other day I caught the end of a talk on the radio.  The speaker was saying, “Give your children back to God.”  It’s an old line, but because of my life circumstances it hit me with fresh force.  Give them back to God.  Why didn’t I think of this before all the crying and vomit and broken bones and bickering?  I’ve kept them this long, but maybe it’s time to reconsider. Is there a statue of limitations on returns? Since God is eternal, I think I’m good.  Let the returning begin.  Now.

I have two children in college.  Letting them make the transition into the adult world has been difficult.  It’s not that I want to control every aspect of their lives.  Rather, it’s that I see that I can no longer protect them, even in small ways, from the evil that prowls about the world, seeking the ruin of souls.  I can’t shield them or keep them safe.  Then again, I guess I never could.

My oldest son, since age 16, has struggled silently with his belief in God.  I remember the first time I knew this.  We were driving home, the stars large and bright in the night sky—I could have reached up and touched the hand of God.  But something in our conversation, something carefully understated, caused me to realize that my son was no longer sure that God was there.  When he went off to college, I sent a Bible and a small crucifix.  As I left him, standing on the curb a thousand miles away from home, I wept.  Now, as he prepares to graduate, he was, at long last, able to confess that his belief in God is dead.  I know, as I know few things, that God placed him in this university.  For the last four years, he was where he was supposed to be.  My predominant feeling over this time has been, “We’ve lost him.”  But I had to let him go.

(This one didn’t perform as expected.  Can I make an exchange?)


Tim Oram/Getty Images

Tim Oram/Getty Images

My second son was exposed to pornography at age twelve.  He saw a sexually enticing ad and web address in the back of a scientific magazine in our own home. When he went to college, computer in hand, I knew he was walking into the lion’s den, yet I felt powerless to stop it.  All our talks together, all my prayers for him seemed insignificant in the face of the monstrosity that would confront him there.  His temptations have been as bad or worse than I could have expected.  But I had to let him go.

(This one is broken and I can’t fix him.  Can you credit my account?)


I recently read The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God. It is the story of the life of Ruth Pakaluk, a wife and mother who died at age forty-one after an extended struggle with cancer.  The book tells how she and her husband met and fell in love, of their conversion from atheism to Christianity, and of Ruth’s astonishing contributions to the pro-life movement while mothering her six children and undergoing cancer treatments.  It also tells of her extreme suffering, and her absolute, even joyful, resignation to God’s will.

Ruth was a letter-writer, and the larger part of the book is simply a collection of the letters that she had written over the years—to parents, friends, priests, and politicians.  Her last letters, appropriately, were for her children.  She expressed her pride and love, but she also admonished—pointing out weaknesses the children needed to work on.  She spoke to friends with confidence and trust of giving her children to Mary—though also with great sadness at the thought of leaving them motherless.  I thought of how she, much more so than I, had to let her children go.

So the guy on the radio caught my attention when he said: “Give them back to God.”  The speaker was a priest, and he told of how he sat his parents down to explain his calling to the priesthood.  He described his mother nodding and smiling through it all, as though she already knew the story.  When he finished, she told him “It’s no surprise to me.  You were never mine to begin with.  Your father and I gave you back to God as soon as you were born.”

I was reminded of 1 Corinthians 13, which outlines what authentic love looks like:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

I have to give my children the same freedom that their creator gives them.  Love can’t be about possession or control…or about me.

St. Paul goes on to say,

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Growing up is something we all have to do—myself included.  We all have to move out of our comfort zones, and live out God’s calling to the fullest, even when it’s scary.   Because we see “through a mirror, dimly” we aren’t able to visualize the big picture.  I can’t even imagine what God has planned for my children or how he will operate in their lives. Instead I have to cling to God’s words.  Jeremiah 29:11 says,

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My youngest child is 22 months old, and already she wants to be fully independent of me.  All my children have wills of their own, over which (soon enough) I have little control.  I can love them, and teach them and discipline them.  I can listen, and I can pray.  But in the end, I have to let them go.  I have to give them back.  They were never mine to begin with.

(Can I speak to the manager?  Please?)


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