Partners in the Gospel

I have a theory about mothers of large families and Empty Nest Syndrome. We are not afflicted, at least not in the conventional way. As the friends who had babies with us when we had our first begin to enjoy (or lament) their empty nests, we see ours still quite full. Three of my children are grown and gone. Six remain at home. By most standards, six children under roof is still quite a full nest. Those parenting trenches to which people often refer? I'm still in them.

Further, I have noticed that even when the child has flown the nest, the work of parenting does not end. So, my nest is not empty. Nor is it one nest. I have learned to make temporary nests in college towns while supporting and encouraging birds learning new flight patterns and tending birds with broken wings. More often than not, though, the parenting of grown and flown children is a prayer.

Children raised in Christian homes go out into the world and are almost universally astonished. This big, beautiful place is a mess. Living the Gospel is hard work, an arduous challenge day by day. At every turn are snares of the devil. No matter how diligently they've been taught in their younger years, there are so many lessons that only life away can teach.

And we, at home, begin to know our roles in this season. We are the safe place to vent. We are the ones who will help to discern. We are the encouragers. We are the ones who pray incessantly on their behalf to the Creator and continuer of grace. So, as I still raise little children to know God, I return again and again to plead for the bigger ones who already do. I'm reminded of St. Paul, who wrote from prison: "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil 1:3-11).

I am grateful - always grateful - for the good work the Lord began in my children while they were still safely at home. I am aware - ever aware - of how treacherous a road they now walk. Increasingly, my job now is just to keep telling them to keep going. Keep on; you're doing it. I hold them in my heart. I remind them of all the ways that He has given grace. And I assure them that they can carry on.

As they grow, I can see that they are co-laborers for Christ. We are in this together. I continue my work at home, and they embrace new roles in new places. Together, we see our identity as a family. We are working together in the Body of Christ. We are partners in the Gospel, praying that our love will abound more and more.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

@elizabethfoss