The Hardest Thing I've Ever Had to Do...
Dena Johnson MartinDena Johnson is a former single mom to three amazing kids: Blake, Cole, and Cassie and wife to her high school friend, Roy. She strives to follow Christ each day and to lead her children to do the same. She delights in taking the every day experiences of life and turning them into biblical lessons for her children. Dena's daily prayer is simple: Lord, my life is yours. Live through me. Love through me. Parent through me. Let me decrease that you might increase. Dena is the founder of Dena Johnson Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people find beauty through the brokenness of this life. Her heart's desire is to use her own pain to point others to the power of God who redeems every hurt, every pain. You can contact Dena at Dena@denajohnson.com. You can also find her blog at Dena Johnson Ministries.
- 2019 Feb 19
I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life.
I’ve walked away from an abusive marriage.
I’ve learned to thrive instead of just survive.
I’ve been a single parent to three teenagers.
I’ve run a half-marathon.
I’ve written a book.
I’ve walked away from a large salary for peace of mind.
I’ve buried friends and loved ones.
And I’m sure there’s plenty more I’m forgetting.
But, today, I am learning to do the hardest thing this life has thrown at me:
I am learning to let my kids live their own lives.
I have three teenagers. One graduated last year and is thriving in college. One is a junior in high school on the verge of leaving the nest. I still have a few years with my baby, but she’s not far behind.
In my mind, I’ve had this nice little plan for their lives: go to college, get a degree, land a good job, eventually settle down with a wonderful spouse, have kids, and live the American dream.
But that’s my plan for my kids.
My heart is in the right place: I want to protect them from the hard stuff like every good parent does. I want to make sure they are comfortable and safe. I want to make sure they have all the right ingredients to have a happy life.
But they are not me. And, let’s be honest. Playing it safe didn’t protect me from the bad stuff this life throws at us.
Even more than that, the hard stuff is where I learned to lean into my Heavenly Father, to walk in communion with Him. Getting out of my comfort zone was where I learned more about myself than ever before, where I was challenged to grow and become more. The pain was where I was molded into the person I have become…the one who desires to know my Savior and be a vessel for Him in ways I never dreamed possible.
I played it safe.
My kids don’t want to play it safe. Maybe it’s because they’ve been through so much pain in their lives. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen loved ones squander their lives and their talents. Maybe it’s because I’ve tried to instill a sense of adventure in them. Maybe it’s because they’ve learned to let their faith be bigger than their fears.
Or maybe it’s just because God wired them differently than He wired me.
The truth is I want to give my kids the freedom to become who God created them to be, even when it breaks my heart, even when it makes my mama’s heart terrified to see what their hearts desire.
The truth is that letting my children spread their wings and fly in their own direction—outside my protective little nest where I can watch over them—is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
So here I sit, doing everything I can to let go while I want so desperately to hold on for dear life. Here I sit, my heart teetering between bursting with pride and being ripped to shreds. Here I sit, trying to believe my Heavenly Father loves them way more than I could and yet thinking no one can love and protect them the way their mama does.
So where do I go from here?
Trust my Father. God has walked with me through the wilderness so many times, and it’s in the wilderness where I’ve learned to trust Him. It’s in the wilderness where I’ve seen Him pour out His tender mercies on me every single day. It’s in the wilderness where I learned the true lessons about His faithfulness.
And, if my children have to walk through a wilderness of their own, I have to trust that God will be faithful. I have to trust that He is a much better protector than I am. I have to trust that my children will learn to trust Him just like I did. I have to trust that all things work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Trust myself. My kids have been my life for so many years. My kids were the reason I chose to thrive and not just survive after my divorce. My kids were the reason I chose to keep on living.
I have not been a perfect parent, and I sometimes am hard on myself for not having more: more time, more energy, more prayer, more Bible study, more money, more of everything. But the truth is, I’ve done everything I knew to do and I trusted God to fill in the gaps.
I must believe that I have shown my kids the sacrificial love he wanted me to show. I must trust that I did my job as a parent, loving and leading the best I knew how. And, I must trust that God truly did fill in the gaps.
Trust my children. My kids are amazing! Smart. Kind. Compassionate. Leaders amongst their peers. They have good heads on their shoulders and make good decisions. They all know God and have never done anything to disappoint me.
It’s now that I have to let go and trust that they know themselves better than I do…and that they have learned to be all they can be. I must trust them to make the decisions for themselves…and trust God to care for them wherever this life may take them.
Do you see where it all goes back to trusting God?
Maybe the biggest lesson I’m learning as I walk through this journey of releasing my kids back to God is to lean into my Father once again, to fall on my knees before Him in prayer for my children. As I learn to release them, I must learn to pray for them in new ways, to petition the God of the Universe in ways I never have before. I must learn to trust Him in new ways, to trust Him with my most precious gift on the face of this earth. That’s a tall order for this human heart.
So I pray. And I trust. And I lean. And I cry. And I pray some more.
And I remember my God is faithful…always and forever.
Lord Jesus, as I learn to release my children back to you, I beg you to keep your hands all around them. I pray you would pursue them relentlessly so they can never walk away from the safety of your Presence. I pray every decision they make would be bathed in prayer and in line with your will for their lives…not mine. I pray that when they walk through the wilderness, they would see your faithful love and provision for their every need and learn what it truly means to trust you. Hold my children close as I learn to give them back to you.