Bittersweet Birthday

Letting go of those we love most and releasing them to God.

by Nancey West

I knew this birthday would be special. My daughter, Kristi, lived 1,600 miles away and was coming home for the weekend. My son, Matt, had finished his summer job and was home to start another year of college. They would be with Jon and me for my birthday.

The whole family together. What more could a mother ask for?

Glad to sad

My birthday dawned bright and warm — the same way I felt as we gathered at one of my favorite restaurants for lunch. I squeezed Jon’s hand beneath the table as we listened to Kristi’s stories of living in Arizona and Matt’s adventures as a welder in southern Oregon.

As we visited, Kristi’s cheery, shining eyes grew dim and she silently stared at her water glass. “What’s wrong?” I asked, concern building in my stomach.

Slowly, she took a deep breath. “I need to tell you. J. W. and I have separated.”

Marriage problems

A sharp pain ran through me as I blinked away the moisture building in my eyes. When Kristi and J. W. were married, we welcomed him into our family. In the two-and-a-half years since, he had become a part of our hearts and lives. Kristi had confided in me some problems they were having, but I’d hoped they could work out their differences.

Kristi explained what she had not been able to tell me on the phone: She had already given notice to quit her job as dental assistant and planned to return to Oregon.

The tightness in my throat kept me from voicing my advice. I just listened. I wanted her close to home, but at this price, it would be bittersweet.

College challenges

Matt lightened the heavy atmosphere with his plans of beginning his third year of college soon. He was majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in math. Each year his classes became harder, and he needed more time studying to meet the challenge.

He explained that living close to the college, 20 miles from our home, would give him that opportunity. With that he announced, “I have decided to move in with Brie.”

More pain

Another sharp pain. The previous year Matt met Brie, who could easily be described as “hot,” with straight, blond hair and long, thin legs. She had found a three-bedroom house across the street from the school’s parking lot and needed two roommates. Matt agreed to be one, reassuring me that they were just friends.

My already aching heart filled with even more sorrow. Again, my words of wisdom must be left unspoken. I had taught my children to be independent and to think for themselves. There was nothing for me to say.

Happy birthday, Mom!


I had believed my children received a solid foundation in faith and would avoid the pitfalls of a secular society. When our church hired a youth leader with a live-in boyfriend, I felt the responsibility of teaching my children moral values fell on my shoulders. I had failed.

I voiced my heartache to a group of friends that week. They knew that only prayer could heal the hurt. There, in the café where we met, they stood around me with hands on my shoulders and prayed. Fervently and earnestly they prayed, asking God to give me comfort and release my children to His care.

Inner struggle

No!” I wanted to stop the prayer and tell them to pray for intervention, that my children would make the decisions I wanted them to make. I wanted everything to look like the perfect Christian family. I wanted a life without disappointment.

But prayer isn’t about what I want. Wisely, my friends did not pray for the desired outcome but for God’s protection in each life.

Peace of release

I closed my eyes tightly and listened to the Lord’s words. Where two or more are gathered, there I am also. His presence grew strong among this small group of faithful women.

I could see before me a pair of rugged hands, cupped together to form a bowl. During the prayer for Kristi and J. W., I pictured them nestled within these rough hands, sitting side-by-side with their legs folded and their heads bowed.

Peace settled in my saddened heart. I knew my kids were in God’s care. He had shown me that His hands would be gently, lovingly around them in whatever decision they made.

Understanding God

Tears rolled down my cheeks — not from sorrow but from an overwhelming awe. God understood my pain. Each day He sees His children taking paths that are not in their best interest — paths that sometimes lead to pain. God feels the pain but allows His children to make their own choices.

How many times have I ignored God’s advice and gone my own way? He never gave up on me but surrounded me with unfailing, unconditional love. How could I do any less?

Forgiveness and trust

Forgiveness was needed — not that I needed to forgive my children but that they needed to forgive me for placing my own expectations on them. As a mother, I wanted the best for my children. Now I had to trust them to use the faith they learned while growing up. I had to trust God to keep them close to Him.

When I asked God for forgiveness, His love lifted the heavy weight of responsibility from my shoulders. I realized He cares for my children far more than I could comprehend. I could rest assured that He is with them, always.

Parental pattern

Broken or uncommitted relationships are not God’s desire for our lives. But whichever path we take, He remains faithfully waiting for us to call on Him, to encircle us with His loving, nail-scarred hands.

Whenever I begin to worry about my children, the picture of God’s cupped hands appears and peace settles in my soul. I will always cherish my children, letting love sooth any pain, just as God does for us.

I learned an important lesson about God’s love being the pattern for parental love. It turned out to be a special birthday after all.