Most of us have heard the phrase, “healthy birds leave the nest.” Maybe we’ve even consoled others with these words. It sounds wonderfully inspirational, right? But when you are the one left in the nest to watch those baby birds fly away, it isn’t so simple. In fact, it’s hard! At the time I am writing this, we are in the middle of graduation season. As moms and women who minister to girls, we are preparing to watch them walk into adulthood. We are preparing them to fly.
I began serving in student ministry right after graduating high school over twenty years ago. I couldn’t wait to get started. I dreamed of one day marrying a man called to student ministry, and the Lord graciously fulfilled that desire. Years later, serving alongside my husband was such a blessing. But I quickly found out that each summer full of sleepovers and girls’ nights came with an element of sadness as I watched our graduating students transition out of our ministry.
While working with my husband in student ministry for over 15 years, I always felt that this time of the year was bittersweet. I wavered between pride over watching my girls march into the unknown and heartache over my season with them drawing to a close. Now as a mom, I already think about what this will feel like with my own children, and there are even days I feel paralyzed by the idea of them one day leaving home. So, what can we do to prepare ourselves?
We must remember our purpose.
As moms or as mentors, what is our real goal? Is it to invest time in our girls and have fun with them? Is it to see them grow spiritually? Does it go beyond their time in our homes or in our ministries? If it doesn’t, then maybe we’ve forgotten our purpose. Our goal is simple: discipleship. A healthy disciple goes and makes more disciples. There is usually immense growth in the leaving. If our goal is to keep them near, we are shortchanging them and ourselves. Going was always the plan. Jesus commands us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19, CSB). Many of us aspire to fulfill this commission or we wouldn’t be working with teen girls. But here is the deal—they are also accountable to the same command. They also must go and make disciples. And they can learn obedience to Jesus by watching our obedience. We get to help our girls lay a strong foundation so that they can then go out and grow the Kingdom! During this season we have the honor of watching them build upon it as they fulfill the Great Commission. What a privilege!
What can we do to help them go? Let’s talk through three practical ways.
Cheer them on!
I love to look at the relationship of Paul and Timothy. Timothy was a spiritual son to Paul. If you have served in ministry long enough, you likely know the blessing of having spiritual sons and daughters. Paul urges Timothy to serve, to lead, and to go. In his letter to Timothy during his final stay in prison and near the end of his life, Paul reminds him that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement” (2 Tim. 1:7, CSB). Paul’s entire letter in 2 Timothy is aimed at cheering Timothy on, reminding him of the power of the God dwelling within him. As our girls prepare to walk toward their next steps, we should remind them of the power that resides within them. If we express only sorrow or anxiety about them leaving, they will follow our lead. Instead, let’s remind them that God is with them, empowering them as they go.
Remind them of foundational truths.
In the same letter, Paul urges Timothy to “hold on to the sound teaching that you have heard from me…guard the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim. 1:13-14, CSB). Even after our girls’ transition, we can be there to remind them of the foundational truths of the gospel. We can remind them that the Lord in “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pet. 1:3, CSB). Peter goes on to say that as long as he is living, he will remind these fellow believers of biblical truths so that they can “recall these things at any time after [his] departure” (2 Pet. 1:15, CSB). Even though our girls may not physically be in our homes or in our ministries, we can continue to remind them of biblical truths. Send them letters at college, camp, or the workplace; text them verses full of rich truth; call and pray with them over the phone. My student minister’s wife did this for me after I moved away for college, and it ministered to me in ways she will never know.
Remind them of their real “home.”
The girls we invest in may physically leave, but we can always be their safe place. We can serve as a home base to which they return. Even more so, we want them to know that the Lord is their one true home. No matter where life may lead them, He will always remain with them (Matt. 28:20). You helped them know the Lord more deeply, and it wasn’t in vain. He is their home, their shelter, their loving Father. Clinging to this promise can ease any anxiety we may feel about them leaving because the Father holds them in the palm of His hands.
What a beautiful responsibility we have in preparing our girls to go. What a gift we have in spurring them on towards God’s purpose for their lives! Let’s shift our mindset from letting go and instead focus on pushing them forward. Whether you are doing this at home or in ministry, you press on too, friend. God is using you in a powerful way to fulfill the Great Commission. May we never lose sight of that.
Alecia Bryant lives in Louisiana with her husband, Chris, and their two children, Parker (8) and Avery (5). She loves studying God’s Word, writing, and leading worship. Alecia has a passion for discipleship and believes God’s Word is a life-changing gift. She serves alongside her husband, the Discipleship Pastor at their church. In her free time, she is likely hunting down her next favorite Mexican restaurant or curled up on the couch with her kids. Connect with Alecia: Blog // Instagram