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The Parable of the Neighbor Lady

"The Parable of the Neighbor Lady" is a story I made up several years ago after a futile attempt to control the universe, or at least the part of it my youngest daughter inhabits.

Just barely 20, she'd moved 500 miles away from home to create a life of her own. Because I wanted her to succeed in this new venture, I set out to "help" her.

Since I couldn't reattach her umbilical cord, I made do with several phone calls a day, just to say "hi" or to tell her about job leads I'd found online. I sent regular care packages of toilet paper, microwave popcorn, candy, books, gift cards, bath towels, and cosmetics.

I paid for a gym membership so she could exercise and meet people. I even wrote letters to women's ministry leaders at churches I thought she should attend, asking them to pray for my daughter and maybe invite her to church. I advised her on decorating her bathroom, handling conflicts with her roommate, and dating.

As weeks went by, if she sounded sad, I'd text message her cheery notes because I felt responsible for her happiness. If she complained she was broke, I'd drive the 40 miles to the nearest branch of her bank to deposit money into her account. I'd done it so many times that one day the bank lady said, "Don't do it, Mom. Cut those apron strings."

But I had to help. And that just scratched the surface of all I did (and sometimes still do), trying to "help" my daughter find her own way.

In all my hyper-vigilance at micromanaging my daughter's life, I couldn't see how I was hurting her. I just wanted her to be healthy, happy, safe, and strong. I didn't want her to suffer or experience any discomfort. What's wrong with that?

Plenty.

After a few months, God opened my eyes through a parable I'd written:

Once there was a woman with a daughter—and an interfering neighbor lady. If the woman decided it was best for her daughter's character not to have the latest fashion accessory or electronic gadget, even before the girl could whimper, the neighbor lady appeared with bags from the mall and set them at the girl's feet.

The woman kindly told the neighbor lady to go away, but she wouldn't. She was too afraid the woman didn't know how to raise her own daughter.

One day the woman was teaching her daughter to ride a bike—and the neighbor lady, hiding in the bushes on the bike trail, panicked because she was certain the girl would hurt herself.

So as the girl started to pedal the bike, the neighbor lady sprang from the bushes—not even noticing the girl's mother was right there—and grabbed onto the bike, sending the girl crashing into a tree.

As I thought about that story, I realized God was the mother trying to raise the girl (my daughter) and I was the interfering neighbor lady! The parable was God's way of telling me that my daughter belongs to him, and that as her heavenly Father, he knows what's best for her, even if it means she suffers through heartaches, setbacks, physical difficulties, or financial hard times. Even if it means she doesn't do everything—or even anything—I think she should.

When I saw myself as the neighbor lady, I finally saw my efforts to help my daughter often actually hurt her.

Even though both my daughters will always be my children, they aren't children anymore. They're adults with lives and identities separate from me. And they have a Father who loves and cares for them infinitely more than I ever could.

My love is tainted with self. By trying to protect them, I'm also trying to protect myself. If they don't hurt, then I don't hurt. Or so I think.

However, hurting isn't always such a bad thing if it drives them—and me—to God's throne. My interference actually keeps them from God, and that's the last thing I want.

Even so, my inner neighbor lady is strong; but I'm getting better at resisting her. I'm hoping one day she'll give up and go away.

If you have children, what has God taught you about letting them go? Do you have trouble trusting him? How has God been Father to you?

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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