I recently watched a small child struggling to master bike riding, and it swept me back to my childhood when I feared I would never learn such a complicated skill.
I was eight years old, and my dad fixed up my sister’s old bicycle and repainted it for my birthday. It was a used bike when she got it, so it wasn’t a shiny state-of-the-art model by the time it was passed down to me. Nevertheless I was excited to have my own wheels at last.
Excitement turned to frustration as my dad took me down our street countless times, walking beside me with his hand on the rear of the bike to steady it as I wobbled my way from block to block. I remember shouting, “Are you still holding on? Don’t turn loose!” for fear that I didn’t have what it took to keep it steady and upright, even past the time when I was managing pretty well with only a few tumbles. Daddy kept assuring me that yes, he still had a hand loosely on the bike ~ until the day I turned, looked back, and saw that he was jogging alongside me but had let go and was not touching the bike at all.
I had a momentary shuddering loss of confidence until I realized that I no longer needed his constant hand, keeping me headed in a straight line. I was doing it on my own . . . and it was an exhilarating sensation!
Fast forward to my first day of college. I had thought myself strongly independent and so ready to fly the coop and be on my own. We packed my car and my parents’ car and drove to the college campus 180 miles from home. The first day was spent dealing with financial aid and other paperwork, and I stayed in the hotel with my parents that first night. The next day, we moved all my belongings into the dormitory. Too quickly the deed was done, and I followed them back downstairs to their car where we hugged a tearful goodbye. I bawled for days, and I’m quite certain my mother did, too.
This past week, the college campus where I work welcomed close to three hundred new freshmen to our school. We made sure they were given information about all the services and resources available; we met with parents to assure them we had the best interests of their children in our hearts. We provided fun times and special memories, but in the end it was time for the parents to turn loose of their youngsters and go back home.
Last Friday around noon, staff and faculty members grouped around parents and new students in front of the university administration building and prayed. We prayed for these students and their college careers, for each to have a successful future; we prayed for their safety and for them to make good choices. We prayed for spiritual direction. And we prayed for their parents and families heading back home, because we knew they would be returning to familiar surroundings but with perhaps unfamiliar emotions. So we asked God’s blessings and care over each of these families transitioning to a new family structure.
Glancing around at the crowd, my heart clenched with remembered pain as I watched the parents next to me. The dad stood, stoically staring straight ahead and not daring to look at his wife—or his daughter who stood in front of them clad in a University t-shirt, her face reflecting both the excitement and fear of the moment. The mom occasionally dabbed beneath her dark glasses, casually at first, then eventually pulling out a hanky with no pretense of composure as the prayer flowed out over the crowd.
Turning loose is seldom easy—whether it’s letting go of your daughter’s first bicycle, knowing she may fall . . . leaving your son in that kindergarten classroom in the care of educators, hoping the teachers will give him the foundational tools he needs . . . watching him back out of the driveway on his first solo trip with a new driver’s license . . . or the ultimate letting go as you drive away from that college campus, your son or daughter truly on their own for the first time.
Sometimes we have to turn loose of things besides our children. We may have to let go of a parent or grandparent who is dying. Perhaps we have to make peace with the ending of a job that has been our entire life. Maybe a marriage or friendship has ended, and we are left to grieve the loss and try to sort out how we let go of significant people. Releasing our grip on such things is beyond difficult.Despite the pain of turning loose, however, there are almost always other good things that come when we do. God doesn’t leave us stuck forever with the crippling pain of loss unless we choose to stay there and refuse to move on.
When it comes time to turn loose of one thing, it leaves us with a free hand to grasp and embrace something else. If you are in a season of having to “turn loose”, may the Lord invite you into a new season and show you instead what things He wants you to grasp.