Last year I took my seven-year-old twins to the optometrist. Both my husband and I got our first pair of glasses when we were seven, so I figured it would be a good time to see how their vision was.
To my surprise they were nervous about this visit. As we waited for the doctor to come into the exam room, their nervousness grew. When I asked them why, they exchanged a long look.
“Are you afraid you’ll need glasses?” I said, jiggling the frames on my face. “It’s not so bad.”
They shook their heads. Then Ben leaned close and whispered, “It’s okay if both of us need glasses.”
Sometimes I forget how close a bond these two boys have. They are the very best of friends. They share everything, even their clothes and their bed. So for just one of them to get glasses would naturally be devastating to them. It would mean they no longer shared everything.
My heart cracked in two. I could see, as they could not, that glasses were the least of it. What would happen when one of them falls in love and the other doesn’t? When they want to go to different colleges? When they get different jobs? When one of them gets married? It was all I could do to keep myself from crying. I gathered my boys in my arms and whispered, “That would be really hard, wouldn’t it, if one of you needed glasses and the other didn’t?”
They nodded soberly. I held them close, praying for their little hearts, until the doctor opened the door and ushered Ben into the exam chair.
Ben passed his eye exam with flying colors. He came to sit with me while Luke climbed into the exam chair. As Luke read the letters projected on the wall, Ben leaned toward me and whispered, “Mama, he’s missing them.” His voice was worried.
Their worst fears were realized: Luke needed glasses.
When the doctor said this with the nonchalance of someone who doles out prescriptions on a daily basis, I could see Luke’s face fall. I could see him struggle not to cry as he sat there in that big exam chair. He looked very small and scared and vulnerable. Ben buried his head in my shoulder and wept silently.
Later, when the doctor lowered the lights to photograph Ben’s eyes, Luke wrapped his arms around my middle, planted his face in my belly, and cried quietly.
My heart ached.
Apparently all my boys needed was to feel the sadness of the moment, to have a safe place to acknowledge their sadness and be held through it, because by the time Luke’s glasses came in two weeks later, they were both fine: Luke seemed happy to have glasses; Ben seemed happy not to have them.
But months have passed, and my mama’s heart still aches. I see much further down the road than they do. I see the long slow road of separation that lies before them, and my heart is heavy with the sorrow of things to come. I hope and pray my boys will always be the best of friends. I hope they will marry twin sisters and live next door to other, as they have repeatedly told me is their plan for being together always. But I’ve been around the sun enough times to know that even if they do remain best friends, even if they do marry twin sisters, their relationship will change. They will not be close in the same way they are now. They will develop different interests and grow in different directions. And that is good and right.
It is also hard.
Letting go of the goodness we have known is always hard. There is grief involved, even when we’re moving into a season of life for which we are excited. New things can only come as old things pass away. And when those old things are good, there is often sadness.
This fall, I stand on the cusp of some new things: the tenth anniversary edition of my first book releases next month, I am starting a podcast to accompany the relaunch, and I have begun a mini-book-blog on Instagram. These things mark a change from the past few years of my life, which have been quiet and largely invisible. A new book, a new podcast, and an Instagram feed mean I will be more visible than I have been for a long while. I already know I will miss the quiet. I will miss the large swathes of silence and solitude that have characterized the past few years of living without social media. I will miss being able to mess up in private, with only people who love me as witnesses.
This new season will doubtless bring good things, but from where I stand today, it mostly feels like loss. I am sad, and more anxious than I’ve been in years. That is what grief feels like. And it’s what I need to feel right now.
The trouble is, when I feel sad or overwhelmed, there is a voice in my head that tells me that other people’s lives are actually hard—the implication being that mine isn’t, so just buck up and deal. This makes it very difficult to feel what I’m feeling. It also adds guilt and shame to the cocktail of emotions. I am learning to hear this voice as a harpy from hell and to tell it to go back where it came from.
Then I do what I have learned to do in these past three years of quiet soaking in God’s love: I acknowledge how I feel and then give it to God to do with as He chooses. Over and over again until the emotion is manageable, until I can feel it without being overwhelmed by it, until it becomes a friend moving me onward and upward into the love of God, rather than an enemy keeping me trapped in the prison of myself.
I take comfort in knowing that just as I did not belittle my sons’ fear and grief, neither does my Heavenly Father belittle mine. And just as I wrapped my arms around my sad little boys who were facing the prospect of something scary and grievous, so, too, my Heavenly Father wraps his arms around me, encircling me in His love. He lets me feel what I am feeling and holds me through it. Then, when He has loved me into the courage to face what must be faced, He spreads out His wings to bear me up as I step into the unknown.
Whatever is looming on the horizon of your life this fall, friends, and however you feel about it, I pray all of it draws you ever more deeply into the love of God. I pray you would remember that God encircles you and cares for you, and is spreading out His wings to catch you and bear you up every step of your way.
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!