Love and Letting Go

 Photo: Kelvin Murray via Getty Images

Photo: Kelvin Murray via Getty Images

At the breakfast table, I clasp my hands and recite the same words that I recite every morning, words that have become a worn and beautiful path.

Let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console / to be forgiven as to forgive / and to be loved as to love.
— Saint Francis

Hearing my one-year-old crunch cereal in his high chair next to me, I glance up to ensure he’s not choking. He grins at me and I continue.

Although I say these words - part of the “Saint Francis' prayer” - every day, it’s at night they get put to the test. From pacing the house, feeding the newborn in my arms for what feels like the millionth day in a row, I now understand that as a parent, this prayer isn't a request - it's a rule.

My love for my child is so radically different from anything else I’ve ever known. With everyone else I’ve loved, it’s a mutual relationship. I love my parents because of the love they've shown me. I love my husband because he makes me feel more comfortable being myself than anyone else in the world. 

But when my son was born, he had nothing to give except endless need. For the first few weeks, I didn’t even get the encouragement of a smile. Hugs were months away. 

So my love emerged solely from what I could offer him, whether that was milk from my very body or a pair of strong arms. But I because I brought him into the world, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

At the same time, I know this uncompensated giving won't last forever. Letting go of that one-sidedness is a journey I’ve already begun. When he wraps his arms around me or tries to feed me his food, I accept with a smile. It’s a lifelong process, taking care of this helpless baby until they turn back to take care of you.

While we'll never love God more than he loves us, having a child has given me more insight into what it means to be the Creator. God knows everything, yet allows us to make our own mistakes, fumble through in loving him and loving others. Aren’t we called to do the same for our children? As my son learns to love me and others, I need to allow him the space to do so. 

As my son moves forward, I know there will come a day that he will console me, forgive me, and love me more than I love him. Perhaps it will be because I had a heart-breaking experience and I’m too drained to show love to him. Perhaps it will be because I simply messed up and need that everyday forgiveness. Perhaps it could be any number of big and little things. While that day may be a little sad at first, I'll want to celebrate it. It means that I taught him well. And isn’t what this whole parenting thing is about in the end? 

While "seek to love more than to be loved" is taken for granted by the parent of a small child, perhaps we need to add a few more lines as our children grow up:

Help us receive and respect love when it is given by our children, whether to us or others. For it is in letting go that we also love.

 
 Shannon has been a writer since she could hold a pencil.  While she's not making hand-bound books with scribbles anymore, she does write about her life and topics she cares about, especially parenting, social justice, and sustainability.

Shannon has been a writer since she could hold a pencil.

While she's not making hand-bound books with scribbles anymore, she does write about her life and topics she cares about, especially parenting, social justice, and sustainability.

Shannon Brescher Shea