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Learning to Decrease

Motherhood is an exercise in stepping aside and trusting God

I'm an engaged mother. I'm not referring to my relationship status; I mean I'm actively involved in the lives of my children. I pray with them; I monitor their library books; I observe their attitudes and struggles and do my best to offer good counsel.

I'm a sentimental mother. I still tuck them in at night; I take pictures and video clips of their achievements; I keep the handwritten notes and artwork they've proudly bestowed on me; I like to have my children in my sight.

But my status as a mom is about to change. Soon my oldest daughter will be leaving home to enter college. And as I look ahead to this transition, I'm beginning to realize that I must learn to fill a different role.

Accepting the Transition

John 3:30 says, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (NASB).

The apostle was, of course, referring to Christ and to his own part to play in the divine drama that was unfolding. But it seems to me that this verse could apply to almost any situation in which we find ourselves being asked to relinquish the present for God's greater purpose. I think it speaks to me about my changing status as a mother.

Since I believe that my daughter is following God's will for her, I can view this transition as another opportunity to surrender to his plan. And I've been recognizing that her maturity is reaching a state where she needs a different Teacher to take the major role in her preparation for life. She needs the training and mentoring that only the Father can give, the one who knew her from before time and who allowed that tiny seed of humanity to grow and blossom inside me. She needs his full-time, 24/7 nurturing, and that will have the most impact when she is fully dependent on him—in his hands and out of mine.

I remember from my own journey as a teen and young adult that I learned lessons in fresh and inescapable ways when I was "on my own"—vulnerable, green, and yes, a little bewildered. It seems that we must be yanked from our securities to realize the stronghold of God's great love and to trust his constant provision and care. I remember my own mother telling me this was so in her life. Perhaps access to this generational learning curve is one of the greatest gifts I can give now to my daughter.

Stepping Aside

For 18 years, God has used my voice and my hands to instruct her. Now he is going to take over the job to a much greater extent. I must be confident that he will let her remember the echo of my words when she needs it and, in those areas where my teaching has been incomplete, he will fill her heart with his own words, of which mine are only a shadow at best.

My task as her mother is to step aside, to "decrease" so that God might now occupy a greater place as her personal guide and friend. She is, after all, his child, mine only to steward for him. She has my DNA, but she bears his image. It is his breath that brought her into being. Surely, I can trust her maker and redeemer to do right by her. If not, my teaching 'til now has been pointless anyway.

So I suppose the word I should use to describe my status as a mom in any season is submissive. And submission is never easy. Anyone who has ever surrendered to God can attest to that. Surely Abraham and Esther and Mary and John the Baptist all bear record that submission is a fearsome, painful thing, laying down the wishes of self and standing aside so that God may choose the path. But it is required if Christ is to be Lord and if his kingdom is to come—both in my life and in my daughter's life.

Of course, flying from the family nest is a natural thing and will take place whether I submit to it or not. But the kind of personal growth God wants to work in her will happen only if I play my given role in the process rather than resisting and hindering.

Learning to Trust

In her book The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, "We don't want to limit what God can do in our children by clutching them to ourselves and trying to parent them alone. If we're not positive that God is in control of our children's lives, we'll be ruled by fear. And the only way to be sure that God is in control is to surrender our hold and allow Him full access to their lives."

No matter where you are in your mothering journey, this message is for you. God built mothers with a fierce desire to protect our children, yet he asks us to release them incrementally into his care. From the moment of birth (and even during the prenatal phase), motherhood is an exercise in learning to let go and trust. After all, our children really are his from the very beginning.

We can hold to the knowledge that they are safe in his keeping. We can trust that he is "able to keep" what we've committed to him. He asks for our treasures so that he might polish them and place them where they can shine brighter for his glory. And so, for us and for our children, the best is yet to come. Because when we let him increase, the future will be sweeter than we could have made it on our own.

Not Mine, but His

My children?
No, not mine;
Gifts unearned, undeserved they've been from birth.

My flesh and blood?
Yes, of earth;
And yet, like me, their souls belong to him.

My possession?
No, but his,
Who lets me custodian and mentor be.

My legacy?
Yes, the lives
they lead will bear the mark on them I've pressed.

My heirs?
Yes, and no;
I can bequeath them only dust; but he the realms eternal.

Valorie Bender Quesenberry is a pastor's wife, author, and musician. She and her husband, Duane, are the parents of four children and live in Massillon, Ohio.

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

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