Tomorrow my husband and I will take our son, our youngest, to begin his freshman year in college. It’s an exciting time and yet also a bittersweet end of an era in our family. Our son stands on the threshold of a new life, and we are excited to continue to watch him grow and develop into the man he is becoming.
I know this is a scene that is being played out by thousands of parents all over the country right now. It’s the season of beginnings and yet of parting, of finding the strength to be as happy in the letting go of our children as we were on the day they were born and came into our lives.
How comforting that today is also the Feast of St. Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Our readings today include the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 and the story of the miraculous transformation of water into wine at the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-12. In both of these stories we see mothers loving their children enough to let them go, joyfully believing in the potential strength and agency of their children to find their path in the world.
Hannah, as you remember, was granted a child in her old age after years of heartbreak. She promised to dedicate the child to God, if only she could have one. She has her child, raises him until he was weaned, and then honors her oath. She gives up the child for which she had waited so long in fulfillment of her promise. And after leaving her young son in the temple, to be shaped and dedicated by service to God, she sings a song of victory and triumph. “My heart exults in the Lord!” she rings out like a bell. And her song ends up echoed generations later, in the song Mary sings upon learning that she, too, unlikely mother to an unlikely Savior, will bear a child who will become a revelation of the power of God in the world. In the reading from John 2 today, we see again a mother who has faith in her child enough to set him on the same path that will take him far from her. Mary urges her son to inaugurate his messianic mission by providing the new wine of the kingdom at a celebration of the formation of a new family, a new household.
The stories of Hannah and of Mary, reminds me that our children are not ours—they are lent to us for a season. They are our children forever, but not for keeps.
The poet Khalil Gibran urged this same perspective in his book, The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
May we find the love, strength, and wisdom of Hannah and Mary as we set our children upon their courses, with our blessings, excited to learn what next may come.
Image: detail from an icon written by Mikhail Vrubel, at St. Cyril’s Monastery, Kiev, Ukraine, found on wikimedia