There’s a special moment that comes at the end of a memorial service. It’s our closest brush with actually letting go of our loved one. In my five years of being a pastor, I have learned to love this moment. It’s a moment of prayer, a special prayer called the Commendation. To commend means to entrust, to release, to let go. The Commendation is the final, formal, collective goodbye to the one who has died. In the service, I invite those who feel comfortable to extend their hands, palms up in front of them as a sign of this release as we pray. To see a church filled palms extended to heaven takes my breath away (even in those irreverent moments where I think it looks like we’re all doing the Macarena). As Jesus-followers, when we pray the Commendation, we don’t just release our loved one into the vapor; we let them go, handing them over to our God who will never let them go. We place our beloved into the welcoming, capable hands of God. And though we know in trust in the constancy of God, releasing a spouse, child, parent, or friend who has died can feel almost impossible.
The difficultly of release is familiar to us, too, as parents: it can feel impossible to live the Commendation of our children each day. But this is what is asked of us.
The vocation of parent is learning to let go of the one thing you love most—to release that which you are instinctively bound to wrap yourself around: your child. And we have to learn to do it every day, and with each parenting decision.
Are you kidding me? But I love control! I love making the right decisions and sculpting out the perfect plan!
But, of course, there is no perfect plan when it comes to parenting, for so much is out of our control.
When I hear of the horrible stories in the media involving children, I wonder: Oh, dear, God, how do I keep my child from such pain? What can I do?
I want the best for my child. But as natural as my reaction is to hold my child in, to refuse to let go, two years and seven months in to this parent gig, I know the answer is to entrust.
God – how do I hold out my hands, palm up, and release my daughter to you each day? With the unknowns. The violence. The brokenness and abuse. Shouldn’t I just hunker-down and keep her home? But that would be the Fear talking. I know God has called me to the vocation of mother AND pastor, and both of these roles teach me that to walk in God’s will is the best place to be.
As parents following Jesus, we all learn the difficult truth that we cannot control our child’s life. We live the tension: we loosen our grip on our child and yet grab hold of God. Our children are in good hands – better hands than our own – for they are in God’s hands.
We can entrust them to our God who will never let them go.
As we again walk the road to Calvary next week, we remember the One who lived the Commendation; he lived it unto death.
Luke 23:46 reads: “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”
We hold fast to the God who holds fast to us, the God who holds fast to our child. This God shows us in Jesus that he can be trusted. Our God knows pain and suffering. Our God knows the darkness of endless night. And our God knows how to bring the Light of dawn. Our God brings beauty, light and resurrection.
If our God can unfurl resurrection, surely I can trust this God with my daughter!
And we see it again and again, don’t we? Not just the annual walk to the cross and the empty grave on the other side, we see the Light come into the darkness we face. Night is always darkest just before dawn – and Resurrection waits for us as the sun comes up.
In this I know that my daughter is always in good hands – better hands than my own – because she is in God’s hands.
How do we live the Commendation of our children?
1. Open your hands and pray the Help me, Jesus! prayer. I do it constantly. Help me, Jesus. We’re only going to get better at releasing our children if we practice it daily. Help me, Jesus. Take the deep breath and trust that Jesus is with you in the moment and has it. Help me, Jesus.
2. Remember God’s faithfulness. Look at God’s track record in your own life. Remember how God comforted you in your pain? Remember how that awful thing is not quite so awful anymore? Remember, remember, remember. God can be trusted – even, especially with your child.
3. Seek God’s guidance with the millions of parenting decisions – the big AND the mundane. Would ballet lessons be too much for the schedule? Ask. Which school should we choose? Ask. We pray for daily bread because we believe our God can provide what we need. Praying for these other things is no different. Ask. Ask. Ask for what you need today.
4. And as you go through Holy Week, ask yourself what can be left at the foot of the cross. How can you release your grip as a parent this week? What decision or concern or parenting hurdle can you entrust to God and leave in the capable hands of God?
For me, at the foot of the cross I leave the fear and worry that stirs in me as I consider having a second child. Nothing would give us greater joy – but Oh, Lord, how will it be possible to make life work? I want a plan and I want assurance. But all I can really do is let go. This is our work as parents; God asks us to take this leap of trust. To entrust.
Entrust. Let go. Listen for the Voice that leads you. Trust in the One who is far more capable! And watch out: you’ll be amazed.
How very true that parenting involves so many opportunities to trust God for the well being of our children. Pre-school, Elementary school, first sleepover with a friend, High school, getting their driver’s license, and the reality facing me in such a few short months, releasing our daughter to life away from us at college. Thanks for the wonderful reminder of God’s faithfulness and unending love.
Beautiful. So much to ponder here. I love the image of open hands stretched out at the end of the service, and the way you describe how we have to practice daily letting go of our children as part of this vocation.
Your reflection reminds me of words from Mary Oliver’s poem “In Blackwater Woods” about how “to live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones, knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”