When A Child Walks Away

Jace Blog

Someone asked me last week if I enjoy the blogging experience.  This question came after she’d finished all the entries I’ve written since I started this blog site.  She kindly begged for more, citing that I haven’t contributed anything for over a month.

I excused myself with an apologetic nod to busyness and promised I’d be back at it soon.

I have to confess though, it was a lame excuse.  The truth is that I’ve faced some challenges lately that have poked a little more painfully at old hurts than I was prepared for.  And when emotions are raw, it’s tempting to vomit all over the internet.  I simply saw wisdom in processing offline first.

I do realize, however, that there is great value in sharing our struggles…especially when doing so may help others.  I’ve come to see how true this is in one major area I’ve walked  through over these past few years: estrangement from one of my adult children.  His birthday is tomorrow and my emotions have been all over the map, as they always are during times when my life would naturally gravitate toward him.

What I’ve learned, though, is that this ‘thing’ with my son is surprisingly common—and that parents in this situation are closed-mouth.  I know why:  We’ve learned to keep it to ourselves because too many people simply pat us on the back and tell us to ‘let go and let God’ bring them back.  Or worse, we pick up on the subtle blame that often slips past the lips of friends or family who think they get it. That old adage ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ might as well be hanging above our heads.  Believe me, we know we weren’t perfect!  Fault is rarely one-sided.  But estrangement is all too often an angry door slam that leaves parents with no way to facilitate healing.

This year, as part of my processing, I wrote a birthday letter to my son.   He’s blocked all my  communication channels so it will never be sent—but this was far from a useless exercise.  It brought me to a incredibly sweet place in my heart.  And just maybe my public processing will help some other estranged parent get through one of those really painful days of missing their child.

My dearest Son,

On this day, 24 years ago, I held your tiny, already-squirming-for-freedom body in my arms for the very first time.  And when you opened your eyes and locked them on mine, mother-love pushed the rest of the world aside.  Since that moment, you’ve been in my heart.

Like every mother looking at her newborn, I wondered and dreamed…worried and hoped.  I imagined you as a toddler, a preschooler, in kindergarten—and beyond.  Would you excel in school or struggle?  Would you be creative, mechanical, a lover of numbers, or pursue all things philosophic?  Would people like you… or would friendship be difficult? How could I best train you to love God and follow Him and not walk away when the world tempts you to believe the lie that you are your own god? 

Today, as I think about you, I admit I am still haunted by a deep sense of parental failure. I haven’t seen you for nearly five years… not since you walked away from relationship with me, citing reasons I don’t completely understand, but ones I long to fight through together in order to bring about healing for us both. 

When you told me you never wanted to see me again, I lost all creativity, my sense of direction eluded me, and I struggled with conversation as if wading through wet concrete.  

In the first 2-3 years of losing you, I worked obsessively to identify every possible point of failure I’ve had with respect to you along the way hoping to lay them all out before you. Then I questioned how much of your own anger could be chalked off to misunderstanding, misplaced anger, or shame.  And I slammed it all around in my head as a form of self-punishment—not knowing for sure which one thing to examine more deeply or which one mattered not at all.

There is tremendous grace that this sort of life-sapping grief loses potency over time.  Maybe I realized that accepting your departure was my only option.  I slowly learned to live around the vacant space in my world– but never excised from my heart.  And instead of long phone calls and visits, I accepted the alternative: I could keep you close by praying for you every time you came to mind.  

On days like today,  I miss you more than ever– and I welcome the tears for the reminder they are of love.  More than that, for just this one day, I will close my eyes allow myself just a little bit of hope that maybe… someday…

In my mind, I see you by the sea—your brown eyes scanning the water, dreaming of tomorrow and how you will change the world around you.  You are so much taller and stronger than you were—a man now. Capable and courageous.  The set of your shoulders suggests you haven’t entirely lost that old angry streak… but I imagine, in your maturity, that it now fuels a passion for the underdog that you’ve had since boyhood.

As I walk up to you, standing close enough to breathe in your still-familiar scent–I put my arms around you, feeling the past melt away.  For a split second, I can almost feel the weight of your newborn body pressing into my arms.  But then my memory explodes into shards of joy—as you pick me up and swing me around and around, laughing the whole time.  When you finally set me back down on the sand—our eyes are filled with unshed tears. And hope.

“Happy Birthday, honey,” I say.  “I’ve missed you so much.”





6 thoughts on “When A Child Walks Away”

  1. Well well, I have experienced this myself but only for a short time. Recently we have had a new family dynamic. I’m in shock and so sad. I had no idea that this was a trend or that it happens so often.


    1. The more I talk about it, the more common I realize it is. And also, there is so much shame on the part of the parent/grandparent that keeps us silent. I, for one, made mistakes. I may not believe those mistakes we’re terminal, but my son does. Healing takes honest, even angry, communication…and a willingness to listen on both sides. That is the part I am seeing in the people I talk to: communication has been shut down.


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