One of our children is moving out. She’s not the first, and she’s not the last to “leave the nest.” She is leaving under the best of circumstances, so this should be a joyous occasion as a parent. It is, and yet, it isn’t.
It’s a happy milestone for my child. It’s exciting to see her happy, anxious, and looking forward to her life ahead. That’s all good. It’s like producing a play or musical production, going to rehearsals, fine tuning and perfecting the show, then being excited as the curtain goes up. It’s showtime! It’s a joy to see your child spread her wings and fly. For parents, there is also loss. It’s a little sad to see her leave and be on her own. This is a familiar parental feeling that happens throughout your child’s lifetime. In years past, I loved my child by helping, teaching and protecting. Now I love by accepting my grief and supporting her to leave.
For Christians, the parenting role brings a spiritual process, teaching us how God fathers us. The experience of our children “leaving the nest” shows us the process of separation. It reminds us that our children are not ours to own or control. They were created to be separate individuals. However, there is a subtle but significant detail. Even as parents and their children are meant to be separate individuals, total separation wasn’t originally part of the plan. Separation was meant to be within the context of communion with God. We were created to be individuals with special identities, with freedom to live and create to glorify the creator, yet fulfilled by a full relationship with God, as we existed in the garden.
We were meant to be both in communion with God and to have a separate identity from God. This all changed when Adam chose to disobey and separate from God. Our relationship with God was broken, leading us to experience full separation, loss and death. We weren’t created for this. The loss of communion with God magnifies separateness, and makes it existentially terrifying and painful.
God feels pain not only when his children choose to deny him, and reject his Son and his redemption. He also feels when believers turn away from Him. My pain of separating from my child is a mirror to the feeling God experiences when I am distant from God. My parental sadness in the independence of my child can remind me of God’s grief when I separate from Him.
Parenting is a blessing. It is a paradox of joy and pain. It brings joy and celebration to the milestones of our children’s lives, yet there are frequent reminders of pain in their separateness. God redeems the pain in my child’s separateness. I know that separation from me is good for her. I can accept that sadness as it is a measure of my love for her as a father. As God loves me, I realize He feels sadness when I turn away from Him. In that moment, I share in the understanding of God’s experience. Then sadness and pain become redemptive as I am in communion with Him.