Will I be okay if I have a son in pictures and memories only while he has a life away from us?

I wonder if one of our sons will ever be in relationship with us again.

My husband and I have had the great privilege of raising 4 boys whom we did not birth. That is a beautiful story, a painful story, the story that has made me who I am. I would make that decision again and again and again.

My home is filled with photos of this good decision.

Two of my sons are beautiful and good men. Two ended up in the prison system anyway. One is not communicating with us now.

This is not the first time. We’ve had seasons of when we don’t hear from him. Years. But he always returns. Then he wanders away again. Then he returns. We are in one of those times when we don’t hear from him.

But I’m wondering (is fear speaking?) that at age 39 he will make the final decision to separate from us.

Will he want a fresh start away from us? I hope that also means away from his birth family but that is complicated. Too complicated for me to give sound advice on.

Is he tired of disappointing us? Of making me so sad?

Is this the time he is too exhausted to even try to stay connected to a normal life?

Or is this the time he puts in the hard work to heal—and thus has to separate from us for a time to heal? (My heart beats hopeful on this one.)

Will I be okay if he decides to permanently disconnect from us?

We have consistently pushed him to find healing for the tragedies that have happened in his life. Maybe he is just tired of trying to “get better.” Maybe he thinks he can never get better so he will avoid us to spare us that pain. Maybe he is tired of my pushing. I can’t push if he doesn’t talk to us.

The “what ifs” could haunt me. The “what ifs” have haunted me. Years ago I was trapped in that shame cycle. Eventually and bravely I decided to stop letting shame lie to me. To stop letting shame change the story. When parenting these boys when they were younger I had no idea what I was doing, and what the depth of their pain was. I don’t believe they knew how to share that pain, they didn’t have words for it yet, or even realized what was normal and not normal. I have to believe the truth that we did everything in our means to give them a safe home and unconditional love. We have continued to do that—as best as we know how–as they have had to navigate adulthood. We have three grown sons who are actively a part of our lives.

Is having three enough when I have photos everywhere of four?

I don’t know. I’m living in an “I don’t know” time of my life.

This piece of the Bible speaks about “I don’t know” times of life, John 16:12-15:

“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’”

Do you see that lovely “I don’t know” time period?

While we are in it the Spirit of truth comes to guide us into the truth.

I can overwhelm myself with the “what ifs” and even worse “what I should have done.” I could do that because that is something I can do. During “I don’t know” time periods I just want to do something! So shaming myself is a way for me to control the outcome.

But as I mentioned, shame lies. Shame changes the truth of the story.

The truth is I do not control this outcome.

We moms love to control the outcome. But when it comes to our prodigals, we cannot. Thus the fears that swirl inside of us and make us crazy.

My fear is real. This is a fact. I have my son’s repeated behavior as proof that permanent separation is possible. So my fear sends my crazy mind thinking that if I just knew what he was thinking and that this was his decision, I think I might live through it. It’s like I’m setting myself up now for the coming hurt so it won’t hurt as much when or if it does it happen.

But do you see it? It is the lie I’m telling myself so I won’t hurt as much if this does come to be. I’m trying to control the outcome again.

How can I protect my heart from such a devastating outcome while trusting that the Holy Spirit is telling me just what the Father wants me to hear at this time? By staying in this holy tension. By not jumping to a conclusion to protect my heart before it becomes reality. Holy tension defined here is the discomfort of being stuck in between but knowing that if you can make a brave vulnerable decision something holy is going to happen. Holy tension is very much a part of a brave life.

The truth is I love a son who struggles. I know I will love him no matter what the outcome of his life is. This is parent’s heart stuff that is part of the core of who we are as parents. This means my heart will be smashed again. This also means that I truly put the skin on this life quote of mine:

“The brokenhearted are indeed the bravest among us—they dared to love, and they dared to forgive.”

Dr. Brene Brown, Rising Strong, p. 156

So my son is not talking with us right now. This doesn’t mean that I’m not a parent to him. It certainly means I’m not out pursuing him, bantering him, begging him, guilting him to stay in relationship with us. It means I trust God for the outcome and every minute I have loved this beautiful boy has made me a better person. This better person is learning to lean into listening to the Holy Spirit who is revealing to me all that I can know from the Father at this very time, this “I don’t know” time.

This leaning in requires me to be still, to pray, to stop my frantic brain, to study God’s word deeper, to ask others to pray for me (because there are times I cannot pray), to sometimes ask others to carry my pain. In other words, to do behaviors that will make me a better person. A better person of faith.

Which makes my identity not as my son’s mom but as God’s delight.

One of those identities is not possible right now. The other is where my brave life starts from.

This article was originally published here, one prodigal mother to another.


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