I remember the first time I felt the terrible grief in my chest. I was sitting on the black couch in my living room where I always sit, reading an email about move-in dates for fall 2023 at Western Kentucky University. My husband and I discussed possible dates while my oldest, still just 17, waited for the verdict. A minute later, the date had been chosen. I entered “Elliot Move in” to Tuesday, August 15 at 1:40 on our shared family Google calendar. Then I started to sob.

A Mixture of Feelings

Seventeen years felt like a very long time right up until I had an end date. Suddenly, all of the realizations began to come to mind: I would no longer hear his Sonic Bomb alarm clock along with the vibrating extension under his pillow that woke him up and made me laugh out loud every morning. There would be no more calls from a rushed boy between school and work asking me to “pretty please make me a quick grilled cheese.” I wouldn’t hear his voice yelling with his dad as they watched Tottenham Hotspur games (Premier League soccer) together in the living room. He was moving 289 miles away, to another state, where I knew no one. Neither did he.

Of course this had always been the goal. My job, like any mom, for the first part of his life had been to get him ready to make it in the world apart from me. And in many ways, through a miracle of God’s kindness and a whole lot of help, we had accomplished that goal. But all the practical plans faded as I worried through the days and nights. Would he ever make friends? Could he handle the load? Would God take care of my baby when I couldn’t? 

These were my thoughts and feelings as I walked into the school gym for my oldest son’s high school graduation. But I also felt a surge of pride, joy, relief, happiness, and gratitude. I was thrilled Elliot had made it so far, and thankful for his work and perseverance. My heart was an absolute mixture of so many conflicting and different emotions. Graduation, I came to understand, can be a time of ambivalence. Whether your child is moving from the simple days of elementary to the complicated years of middle school, from a vocational school to their first professional job, or through any other graduation, we as moms are bound to feel a ball of emotions that a friend of mine appropriately calls “mixy.”

A graduation is a pivot, a landmark, and a rite of passage. It signifies change, which always involves loss. Graduations are a very good thing, and a very “mixy” thing. For moms, they often bring up an emotion that cannot be avoided in this unpredictable world: fear.

Any school brings with it the wonderful solidity and regularity of routine. We know the plan for our child in the months and years of academic calendars, parent-teacher conferences, and unit tests. But graduation marks a transition to the unknown. Even if you have had a child attend the middle school your 5th grader is now staring down, this next child’s particular future there is unknown. And the more graduations for your child you attend, the less direct access you will probably have to their everyday needs, decisions, and even physical presence.

Known to Their Sovereign God

This is where God’s Word helps us. Though their futures are unknown to us, their heavenly Father sees their path clearly. The Psalmist writes, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16).

We walk through transitions with only a faint outline of what our child’s days might look like. We know their schedule and meet their homeroom teacher, but we’re not sure they’ll understand multiplication tables. We walk through their high school and see their locker, wondering if they’ll make any friends there. We tour their campus and move them into their dorm, unsure if they’ll hold onto their faith in a new environment. But God has the full color story, complete with wins and losses, emotional reactions, sleep schedules, new friends, career paths, health scares, new addresses, and 4th grade buddy names.

“In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me…” The Hebrew here in the Psalm is cryptic. It can mean that God mapped out all the days of our lives in advance, all the way to death. It could also mean that he planned our arms, legs, and toes in utero before any of the developmental stages came to be. Both interpretations point to the fact that God has planned the end from the beginning for each of his children. God does not sit on the sidelines, curious to see what will happen as your child enters each stage of life. He has known day 3,000 since before day 3. His care and planning are precise, his providence motivated by his steadfast love.

You have worked hard to keep your sons and daughters safe, through broken bones and bullies, ACTs and UTIs. You have done your best to teach them to trust Jesus, love his people, and study his Word. And while God has worked through you, their mom, to love them these many years, it is the Lord himself who has held every molecule of their body together. He brought oxygen to their lungs, protected them from the misguided car, and provided their every meal. He has also begun the work of transformation in them to conform them into the image of his son, Jesus.

We are stewards of these small people who grow to be big people. We practice radical hospitality with these children God entrusts into our care for a few years. But he knew about their existence before we ever did. He was present for every struggle, heartache, and triumph. And he has gone before them, wherever their post-graduation plans might take them. Take heart, mom, aunt, big sister, family friend. This child you love is loved more by her Maker. He has planned her story. He has chosen her friends, her jobs, her homerooms, her roommates, and the number of her days. Entrust her to Jesus as she walks over the stage of her graduation and into her next adventure.

Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash

Christine Gordon

Christine B. Gordon, MATS, is wife to Michael and mother of three. She is the co-founder of At His Feet Studies and a visiting instructor at Covenant Theological Seminary. She loves to walk, make music with other people, and share bad puns with her family.