“Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”1
As Lauryn nears the end of her high school career and the beginning of the rest of her life, the more dread and panic creep into my heart. It will soon be my turn to experience separation anxiety, a feeling I have not known since about age 4. As our children grow up, we know they will all eventually leave our nest, but we don’t like to dwell too much on that fact. Most of us as parents of very young children have the luxury of quickly dismissing these thoughts since that reality will not be most of ours for quite some time. But with a teenager halfway through high school, it is far too quickly becoming my reality.
Parents “inevitably begin losing their children as soon as they are born…”1This anxiety hits each one of us though along the journey of parenthood – when our child takes his first step (away from us), when she boards the school bus for the first time, when he has his first sleepover away from home, when she goes out on her first date – all of these milestones remind us of the speed of life and how short the time we have our children to ourselves. The author calls this “mundane grief.” The whole subject of “mundane grief” – the daily nontragic grief so rooted in family life- is remarkably absent from most discussions of loss, as well as from discussions of the family. It is not a coincidence, then, that one of the most overlooked daily practices of faith in families is the practice of blessing and letting go of the other person and your own lament and sorrow. The problem is you can’t just up and bless someone you love out of the blue. Blessing commits us to a way of being with one another and comes with some very sticky strings attached: the strings of attachment, separation, loss, and failure. To get to blessing, you have to go through (or maybe it’s best to say “muck around in”) its component parts. You have to acknowledge life’s limits. You have to offer and receive forgiveness as a step toward receiving and bestowing blessing. Finally, you have to let go in trust.
The author mentions the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old teaching in the temple as his parents search for him for three days. In one translation, Mary, who speaks so few words in the scriptural canon, exclaims, “Behold, your father and I have been looking for you in anguish,”… Mary and Joseph searched for three whole days – an almost unfathomable amount of time compared to parents nowadays who become hysterical when a child fails to show up at an appointed time and place. In essence, we are not all that different from Mary, the mother of God, who, as Gaventa2 notes, contends with a child that is “profoundly hers and yet not hers at all.”
In blessing, we find reprieve and release. We step under the wide umbrella of God’s grace.According to dictionary.com, certain definitions of bless include “to request of God the bestowal of divine favor on”, “to bestow good of any kind upon” and “to protect and guard from evil.” As our children grow and we repeat the phrases common in everyday life – “Have a good day”, “God bless”, “Goodbye”, “Love you” – we bless our loved ones. A hug, a touch, a kiss, a tear. These are all blessings we give all the time, marking our gratitude and care and granting peace and goodwill as our loved ones come and go. Blessings are also gestures that speak when words don’t… These small words and movements can feel so inadequate, so utterly mundane that we don’t even notice them. Yet they actually have great importance, and it can be helpful to recognize them for what they are. They are the blessings we bestow daily, coming and going, gracing others with our love, assuring them of our continued presence, and turning them over in trust to God and the wider world. Blessing is not an easy practice, nor is it one that calls attention to itself. But it is a trust-filled, hope-filled, love-filled practice at the core of Christian faith.
Blessings abound in Scripture, New and Old Testament alike. Some are given without much fanfare, others are wrestled over (Jacob w/the angel), lied for (Esau’s stolen birthright), create controversy (disciples shooing away the little children) and descend as a dove upon the receiver (Jesus’ baptism). Our society may not accord blessing the same status and power it assumed in Jacob and Esau’s time. But we underestimate its importance at our own risk and loss.
The practice of blessing, like a good benediction, declares our willingness to live joyously and gratefully within finite existence and to set our loves ones free to do the same.
We will continue with the subject of letting go next...
1. A favorite closing benediction of the author she heard given at a family retreat village.
2. Quote from historian Anne Higonnet from Chapter 9 of In the Midst of Chaos
3. In reference to biblical theologian Beverly Roberts Gaventa mentioned in this chapter.
All green text comes from Chapter 9 of In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore