She Never Regretted Her Yes

letting go motherhood

During the June after my triplets’ junior year of high school, I signed up for a five-day silent retreat about three hours north of my home. Right off the bat, I thought twice about going since I knew we were heading into their senior year, the last year they would live at home. Part of me thought I should stay home so I could be there for them and with them each moment. But I decided to go and settled in for the week. 

At one of our first sessions, I shared with my spiritual director the feelings in my heart about all three of my children entering their senior year of high school. These feelings were deep, and tears flowed easily. I was excited for them, to be sure, but I was also nervous and fearful—not only for the uncertainty of their next steps but also of mine: a life without my children there in person every day. My spiritual director encouraged me to sit with Luke 2:41-52, specifically the heart of Mary in these verses. Mary holds a very special place in my heart in so many ways, but this prayer experience would bring us to another level together.  

The story tells us that when Jesus was 12, he did not follow his parents home after celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph were traveling with a large party, so it took them a day or so to notice he was missing. Once they realized it, they began to frantically search for him with “great anxiety.” When they found Jesus safe in the temple sitting with the teachers, he told them they need not have worried because he was doing his father’s work. 

As I read this story, the words “his mother treasured all these things in her heart” nestled into a spot in my own heart.

What are “all these things,” I wondered? Was it the anxiety of not knowing if he was safe and the reassurance that she felt when he was? The frantic searching and the peace upon finding him safe? It seemed to me it was both.  

I pondered the fact that Jesus was only 12 years old but the next stage of his life was unfolding before his mother’s eyes. I remember having 12 year-olds, and they are not the same as having toddlers. Twelve year-olds have ideas, thoughts, independence, and the desire to do things on their own. I wondered if this was a threshold moment for Mary: the beginning of the next stage, like the one I was facing head-on during that summer before my kids’ senior year of high school.  

For me, I knew that there was no going back, nor would I want to return to their childhood (for more than a few moments anyway). But I also did not know where the next stage was going to lead.  

How would I keep myself from “anxiously searching”? How could I, like Mary, internalize that in this stage and the next, my kids would be safe, and that they would be doing their Father’s work?  

And what does the me who “treasured all these things in her heart” look like?  

Since that summer day 18 years ago when I found out I was pregnant, my primary role and most important task was to love my children and keep them safe. Caring for them has looked different along the way, of course, but the purpose has been the same. I knew, however, that change was coming.  

Years ago, we once had the “summer of no.” No camps. No planned activities. No. It might sound harsh, but for years afterward that summer remained one of our favorites because the nos made space for more yeses. More spur of the moment park trips, more ice cream runs, and longer stretches at the cottage. The yeses were amazing.  

During the summer of the retreat, our family calendar was full with jobs, tournaments, and practices. The yeses looked different now—and were often things that the kids could do on their own.

“Yes, email the coach.”

“Yes, send your transcript.”

“Yes, let’s visit.”

“Yes, you can.”

I remember being amazed by them during that week before their senior year—what they had done and were doing—and like Mary, I treasured it in my heart. Seeing my preemies who were born at 30.5 weeks now thriving was a growth that tended places deep in my heart and gently swaddled places that were starting to fear the change that was coming.

But I still wanted to hold too tight. I wanted to swaddle my children instead or put on their knee pads or make sure that they were playing on one of those soft surface playgrounds (preferably with a fence around it). I found myself treasuring those days, too: the swaddled, knee-pad protected, fenced-in playground days in my heart. 

Both, and.  

What would it look like for me to navigate this next stage? The stage of letting them do it on their own.

Again, I kept sitting with Mary. I prayed with those verses that week on retreat and throughout their senior year, and as I imagined the time afterward when Jesus “increased in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favor,” and wondered what that was like for his mom, I came to the realization that Mary had never regretted her yes. 

She did not regret her yes regardless of the pain she must have felt watching Him grow and letting Him go. Neither did I regret my yes as I watched my own three children grow and I began the process of slowly letting them go. That summer, my week on retreat was the beginning of the opening, like unfurling one finger at a time to release a ladybug held gently in my palm. Letting go one finger at a time like my toddlers slowly released my hand when they learned to walk on their own. 

Now I looked to Mary, I sat with Mary, I clung to Mary as my three entered their senior year. They learned to release my hand yet hold fast to the fabric of their childhood, woven with love by the same hands that were letting them go.

Anna Bonnema is an open-armed Catholic and a lover of words and nature. Anna is a wife to a man with a contagious laugh and a mom to amazing young-adult triplets. Though she calls herself an introvert, she loves to gather around the table or the fire. Anna is a certified spiritual director and loves walking alongside women in all life stages. Anna published her first devotional last spring and it can be found HERE.

Fueled by tea, lattes, and dog snuggles, Anna loves small celebrations and glitter. Fill your favorite mug and join her on Instagram @annabonnema.

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