I stared at the highway stretched out in front of me and began to relax as the city traffic thinned and travelers began to space themselves out on the open stretch of road. I snapped on the radio and held my finger on the search button as bits of songs and pieces of conversation filled the silence. After a few minutes, I turned it off. I looked at my iPhone audio adapter plugged in to the DC port – what we used to call the cigarette lighter – and thought about the audio books I had loaded on my phone. When I left home, I had envisioned long hours listening to books on my ‘must read’ list while I traveled, but now they seemed unappealing and I drove on in silence.
Perhaps it was the day – the thirteenth anniversary of Robby’s death – or perhaps it was my empty nest – but my heart felt heavy and I was surprised by the empty ache. My son has lived in Oklahoma for more than two years, but this was my first trip to visit him without his siblings. It was also my first trip to visit my daughter since her wedding. Her new home was on the way and I would see her again on my way home. As I stared out at the long stretch of open road ahead of me, I wondered, “Does every mama’s heart ache when she leaves her children? Is this the heartache of an empty nest and a new season? Or is there more to this hurt?”
I think about my visit with my daughter and search my heart to see if perhaps my heart is empty because she is no longer under my roof. Perhaps a bit, but I am happy for her as she and her husband enjoy their new life together. I pray their love will grow and deepen as they face the joys and the trials that lay ahead. I don’t know what the future holds for them but I am confident they will face any obstacles together and together bring their trials to the Lord in prayer.
However as I think about my visit with my son, my heart throbs almost as much as it did when he was sixteen and disappeared in Orlando. I remember lying face down on the floor a thousand miles away and crying out to God to send grace and mercy to shield him. My heart felt so heavy I didn’t know if I could lift myself from that prone position. I recognize this hurt – maybe not quite so disabling – but that same intense ache. And this is my self-diagnosed wound – this intense concern that oozes from a mama’s profound love for a child who is lost.
On the surface, his life appears better than his siblings. He manages his money well, drives a nice car and just bought a nice home all on a meager military salary. But there seems to be an absence of inner peace in his life and an absence of relationship – both with God and with other believers. I hurt for him because I want him to have those friends that encourage; friends that help pick up your broken past and apply gospel Band-Aids; friends that help you see your idols and tell you when you’re relying on something other than a Savior for peace and happiness; friends who walk and talk the gospel and whose very presence in your life make you want to know more about this Savior who redeemed us and saved us by grace and grace alone.
One of my dearest friends says she feels as though she carries the gospel in cupped hands like water and can never completely grasp all of it, but if she carries the gospel like water, it spills over everywhere she goes and on all who enter her life. I want my son to have friends like that.
I wish I could mend those broken places in his life…take away the hurt and emptiness that was left when his dad died…shield him from his past experiences and past hurts… shield him from the evil he has seen and experienced…remove the scars of sin…help him see that for all of his feelings of inadequacy he is really no different from the rest of us…and he is not too broken to be redeemed. But I can’t heal his hurt…I can’t even heal the broken places in my own life…I can’t change the past…I can’t remove sin or its devastating effects from his world…but…I know One who can and does repair and redeem broken lives.
As I head home, I wonder if my son really knows he has a redeemer; I wonder if in this visit I’ve carried the gospel with me at all. Does my son know that this gospel heals hurt and emptiness and brings real peace? I feel as though my cupped hands are empty and I wonder if my heart is empty too for the scripture says from the heart the mouth speaks but I feel as though I haven’t said a word. And if I did say something in the midst of a dozen conversations, did he feel I offered hope or condemnation? How do I offer grace and hope and… do I mention repentance? He knows how I feel about his life but does he know how much I want a good life for him – a gospel redeemed life for him? Not because I want him to be better, but because I want him to know better – to know a better love than my imperfect mama’s love and to know a sweeter peace than the temporary satisfaction the pleasures of this world offers.
So as I travel this long road home I spend my time in silent conversation and lay my weary heart at the feet of Christ, our only redeemer, intercessor, and hope. I pray for all my children. I pray the Lord will be a father to the fatherless. And I pray for the one my heart tells me is lost. Just as I prayed that grace and mercy would be with him once before, I pray now that grace, mercy, and truth will find him and pursue him relentlessly. And while my mama’s heart is still heavy, I am no longer wishing I could change the past nor do I want to hurry ahead and see if the future holds better things.
My children were only mine for a season and I pray I am able to completely surrender and entrust their lives to their Heavenly Father and while my heart may still be burdened for them it is not a burden I carry alone. I believe in a gospel of hope but my real hope is in the sovereign Lord of the gospel, so I pray I am content to entrust yesterday, today, and tomorrow to His sovereign hands.