STEPHANIE FORMENTI | CONTRIBUTOR
There is excitement in the air. Soon, I will join the rest of my colleagues in welcoming new students to campus as they begin their college career. It’s a celebratory day for faculty and staff—after all, these new students are the reason we are here. It’s an exciting season of life for college students. But I have witnessed enough move-in days to know that it’s not always as singularly joyful on the parent side of things. And for good reason. Leaving your student behind is scary, uncertain, and maybe even disorienting. It goes against every instinct we have as moms. So, how do we navigate these emotions in a way that is faithful and helpful for our son or daughter?
While Scripture doesn’t have a chapter devoted to dropping a student off at college, we do find a story about a woman who walked through similar emotions when she left her child at the temple. Granted, the situations are very different, but the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel provides a helpful way forward for moms dealing with these big emotions.
Hannah maintains perspective.
In 1 Samuel 1, we get a sense of Hannah’s deep desire for a child, and we see her persistent prayer for a son. It is gut-wrenching in its depiction. She longs to hold a baby in her arms and to experience the blessing of motherhood. But she also remembers that ultimately any child she is given belongs to the Lord (1:11, 22, 28). This truth works itself out through her actions. Using our sanctified imaginations, we can picture the scene in all its emotion—the tears, the sweaty palms, the pit in her stomach—as she takes Samuel to the temple and leaves him there. She does so because she knows that Samuel belongs to the Lord; it is the best place for her sweet son to be.
It is tempting to believe that our children belong to us. But they don’t. They belong to the One who created them, sustains them, saves them, sanctifies them, knows them, loves them, and promises to never leave or forsake them. It is safe to say that Jesus loves your college student even more than you do. He is even more invested in their wellbeing, growth, and character than you are. God lends them to us as a blessing and a gift and gives us the opportunity to partner with the Holy Spirit in forming their love for God and His kingdom. So, when you feel the temptation to hold on tighter, to micromanage, to over-protect, or to succumb to despair as your student moves into the dorm, remember Whose they are. They belong to the Lord. This is a new opportunity to practice trusting the One who loves both you and your son or daughter.
Hannah talks to God.
Immediately after Hannah leaves Samuel in God’s care at the temple, she approaches God in prayer. I Samuel 2:1-10 records a beautiful prayer full of deep theology (theology echoed in Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46). We’ll get to the theology in a minute, but let’s pause for a second and consider the beauty of this faithful response. In her sad moment, in her deep sorrow, in her uncertain future, and in her fear, Hannah’s heart turns to God.
We can learn from this response, friends. When you hug your son’s neck one last time or when you squeeze your daughter once more before getting in the car, let your emotions turn your heart to God. Talk to Jesus about all the things you are feeling and experiencing. He delights to hear you pour out your heart to Him and He invites you to process this challenging moment in motherhood with Him. He not only listens, but we are told that Jesus understands and empathizes with us in those agonizing moments (Heb. 4:15). While you may be tempted to talk to your college student about all the things you are feeling and all the ways you will miss them, talk to God about it instead.
Calling or texting your child constantly might make you feel better in the moment, but it won’t help your son or daughter adjust to college life and it might even hurt the lines of communication. Like Hannah, take your big emotions to our big God.
Hannah is a good theologian.
Notice the tone of her prayer:
“My heart exults in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1).
“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God” (1 Sam. 2:2).
Prayer is an amazing invitation. Not only does God answer prayer to accomplish His work on earth, but it also acts as a truthful echo chamber. When we tell God who He is, our own words echo back to us and shape our hearts and affections to believe and lean into God’s character. That is the only reason Hannah can “exult in the Lord” in her season of loss. She knows what is true about God and her prayer is an act of remembering those truths. If God is holy, set apart, and her rock, she has every reason to trust Him with her son and with her broken heart.
But notice something else in the following verses:
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world (vv.5-8).
Hannah has good theology about God, but she also has good theology about the reality of living in a broken world where there is hunger, death, poverty, barrenness, and neediness. Her prayer does not reflect an expectation that all will be sunshine and roses, but it does reflect a deep conviction and hope that one day justice, peace, and mercy will reign because God is on the throne.
Moving your child into the dorm is where the “rubber meets the road” theologically. You are not guaranteed that your daughter or son will have a safe, conflict-free, successful, easy, or fun-filled experience at college. But you are guaranteed that God is on the throne and that no matter what happens, He loves them and is for them. And that no matter what happens, He loves you and is for you.
Dropping a student off at college is an emotion-filled experience. As you feel those varying emotions, bring them to the Lord in prayer. Remind yourself of who He is. And trust that He will do a good thing this year in your student and in yourself.
Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash