Did you know that when a butterfly is only a chrysalis, still wrapped up in its cocoon, it looks all protected and comfy, but it is actually busy at work long. Little by little, that chrysalis is stretching its wings as it pushes against its cocoon casing with anticipation for the day it will burst out and fly. If you came along and snipped it free, do you know what would happen? The beautiful butterfly’s wings wouldn’t be strong enough to fly.
The process of pushing itself out, on it’s own, is how it develops its muscles so that it can do exactly what God designed — fly.
My oh my, what a metaphor for motherhood. Our children are just like a chrysalis in their need to exercise their emotional and spiritual muscles over the course of their physical development so that they can launch into adulthood and survive on their own.
So let me ask a tough question of both of us — how are we doing at letting them grow those muscles?
Are we too involved, too protective, too supportive, and thereby undermining the strength they need to gain as they push through challenges . . . and often experience appropriate consequences?
None of us set out to become an overly involved mom! Wouldn’t you say we all dream of seeing our children launch as responsible and independent contributors to society? We cheer them on when they transition out of diapers and into potty training just as much as when they take their fist step in a moving up ceremony. We anticipate milestones like their first haircut and their first shave, their first “friend” party and first date to a dance, their first time behind the wheel (okay, maybe we’re not eager about that) and their first goal on the field.
Is there a mother out there that doesn’t want to see their child grow, develop, and accomplish all that God designed their bodies to do? Yet it takes determination on our part to match our strong-will girls with a measure of respect and consistency, desperately seeking God’s wisdom to know when to say “no” and when to yield for the sake of the growth-moment that may need to be obtained in the mess. It takes discipline to hold back from meeting every need, so that the uncomfortableness they’ll feel in their “wantings and longings” might drive them to the next level of responsibility.
This process of letting go so that they can grow up well is daunting.
How do we know how much to let out the kite string? How can we tell if this decision-making moment is really the right one for them to handle on their own?
These are the questions I’m seeking God’s wisdom on as we navigate the college selection process with our oldest daughter. There’s a tug-of-war going on in my heart as I long for her independence to flourish and fear the pain that comes with growing up . . .
wanting to see her fly on her own but not wanting her to leave our nest
longing to see her embrace her passions but not end up in debt without a job
desiring for her to explore every opportunity but terrified of the wrong choice
anticipating her faith being pressed but afraid of too much stretching
Allowing our children the right to grow up can feel nearly as exhausting as doing the work ourselves! Isn’t that why we’re often tempted to take-over their lives — not because we don’t think they can’t handle it, but we can’t handle the strain of watching it all unfold. Yet, when we step in and meet all their needs, we risk steeling from them life’s greatest teacher — experience under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
John 14:16 NIV
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
It’s those missed-steps, mistakes, and mishaps as a result of their own decision-making that can be the most valuable lessons of their lives.
Certainly, approaching motherhood from this perspective is not easy! We’ve got our own “junk in the trunk” impacting our decision-making. Our past failures become obstacles in letting our children take risks, because the fear of failure carries more weight than the value of the experience in trying. Our hurts become points of contention as we don’t want our chickies to experience the same pain. Like how I ended up at a college I hated with a degree that didn’t make sense at the time and involved in relationships that were toxic. And yet, that’s only half the story — the part marred by pain. But it’s the other part of the story that shouldn’t be overlooked — the part when God met me in my mess and opened my eyes to see Jesus for the first time. The part when He shifted all my values and unraveled my worldview. The part when He brought into my life a godly man who wasn’t afraid of my baggage.
God redeemed my pain and turned it into a beautiful testimony. Is He not capable of also doing that for my children?
Oh yes, our mothering hearts tend to focus on preventing pain rather than embracing the purposes of the One who provides, protects, and redeems. But imagine, if we did step back, just a tad and at the appropriate time. Imagine if we spent more time praying for our children’s future and less time trying to figure it all out (that’s why I’m such a huge advocate of Moms In Prayer International and the accountability it provides.). Imagine if we reconciled our own hurts and disappointments rather than trying to prevent theirs.
Imagine how mightily and beautifully God might work in their lives as we let go and let them exert those muscles needed to fly on their own long before they leave the cocoon.