“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.”   –Psalm 127:3-4

Parenting God’s way should not be a choice for Christians, but it is. The world parents children differently from Christians and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see just how differently. One parent told me quite plainly when I questioned her about parenting responsibilities, “I don’t want to be my child’s parent; I want to be his friend.” And that simple statement wraps it up in a neat little irresponsible way. Sadly, her child suffered the most for her decision.

I think God kept Gwen and me from having children for nine years for several reasons. One was probably that we might learn from the mistakes of others, knowing we would make enough of our own. As Christian teachers in a Christian day school, we observed many parents making many misjudgments; of course, when you don’t have any children, everyone knows you are an expert! So for nine years we watched and we learned. You can be a great Christian and not so great a parent when it comes to releasing the “arrows.” We asked the same questions you probably ask:

Are my children made to be released or to be kept in my quiver?

Why should I release them when it is so painful to do so?

Can my children mature and grow into God’s will if I don’t let them go?

Letting go means I am decreasing my influence in their lives. How can that be good?

A survey showed that the number one issue for adult children was the inability or unwillingness of parents to release their grown children. One woman wrote: “My mother felt like my leaving home was an insult to her. She couldn’t let go. She couldn’t realize I needed to become an independent person. She couldn’t understand that I no longer needed her physical help, although I still needed her as a person. Quite intentionally, she retarded my growing up by 35 years.” A man I highly respect once slipped up and said, “I can’t release my daughter to serve the Lord in the Midwest; that’s just too far away from us.”

Gwen and I made the conscious decision not to do that with our kids and at the time we didn’t even have any kids of our own. We vowed to each other to release the arrows should the Lord bless us with any. Then, years later, we again made that vow to God: “If You bless us with children, we promise to give them back to You—fully back to You with our hands off of their lives so that they might go where You want them to go and to do what You want them to do.” For us, the process of letting go began before God gave us children.

Once the decision to let them go is made, parents find themselves in the process of surrendering them all along the way until final release is completed. When our first child was born, the doctor snipped the umbilical cord and it hit me like a ton of bricks that she was an independent life, no longer on someone else’s life support system. That was a stark reality reminder of the vows we made to God and each other.

What followed was a process of releasing our two arrows.

  • There was the weaning process. It was a learning experience for all of us. But it brought a little measure of independence.
  • Later, there was that first time we used a babysitter. Oh, my goodness; all of the notes and directions and instructions. It scared us to death to think of leaving our baby girl for the first time… with a teenager, even!
  • We took turns taking them to school for the first day in kindergarten because neither one of us wanted to be caught crying in the hallways. It wasn’t a lot different when we first took them to children’s church or their Sunday school classes.
  • Oh, yeah, what about years later, when they wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house? We don’t know anything about this family really. Shouldn’t we do a criminal background check?
  • I can even remember when we left Christine and Kathleen at home without a babysitter. That was a memorable experience as a house in our subdivision caught on fire while we were at a convention in Florida. “Yeah, Dad, there are fire trucks and ambulances everywhere!”
  • Then there was that memorable trip to Pensacola Christian College and a final goodbye down front after the worship service. Everyone was crying then, even Kathleen.
  • One of the hardest ones was putting our “baby” on an airplane at RDU and watching her reluctantly board to go back to college after Christmas. I told Gwen, “That’s the last time I will ever do that!”
  • Weddings were the formal commissioning service in fully giving our girls back to God. The precious jewels we had spent polishing for 20-plus years were about to walk away with “a gorilla,” a term my brother used for the groom!

Was it painful? Sure it was. It is one of the toughest hurts you will know. Was it confusing? No doubt. “Am I doing too much or too little?” “When am I interfering?” “When does it become negligence?”Pain is not the enemy and confusion is not without the benefit of learning wisdom. There is a sense of rightness about completelygiving them up to God. It does take discipline and discernment. But it begins with a decision to let them go, years before the arrow is actually released. On Kathleen’s wedding day, I remember her catching me in my closet, crying over the thought of her leaving us for good.

When it comes time, release them. Release them to manhood or womanhood. Release them to know and do the will of God as they determine what that means. Release them to be the leader of a family totallyindependent of your family. Release the boys to lead the family and release the girls to be a biblical helpmate.

I remember how tough it was to come to the realization that my girls loved someone more than they loved their parents. There was a feeling of aloneness, even though we had God and each other, just as when we began our journey together.

Generally, conscientious parents are control freaks. They like being submerged in the lives of their children, even when their children are 35 years old! They don’t want to give up the influence either. No more instructions, unless they ask. No more directives. One mother I read about opened a box at her son’s wedding rehearsal and took out her apron. Holding the apron high for all to see, she reached into her purse and brought out a pair of scissors. With passion and drive, she snipped off the apron strings and handed them to her son’s bride-to-be. “Never again,” she declared, “will I have the same place in my son’s life. You are now the woman in his life.” It was a type of formal releasing—the commissioning of a new family with a solemn commitment to not meddle, not demand, and not direct her son’s life. What a great blessing that had to be for her daughter-in-law.

I like the way John the Baptist said it when it was time for him to step back from the public ministry of serving his Father: “He must increase; I must decrease.” When you release your children, challenge them to leave home and fly straight for God. Make a difference by depending on Him now more than ever before. Christian parents and their children can profoundly change the world for the glory of God by completely “letting go and letting God.”