I knew it was time for my child to leave, but I held on to him for one last, long minute thinking:

I’m not sure I can let you go.

Is this permanent?

It’s just so far.

Then Bryant (my son) left to begin his new life, working in Montana . . .

M o n t a n a.

To me, it sounded as remote as China—a land far, far away where I can’t go for lunch or a quick visit. There’s no just dropping by Montana. We can’t get together on the weekends. I don’t know anybody in the entire state. Not a single friend of mine will be living around the corner—just in case he needs help.

Last spring, he drove across the country with a dream in his heart, a strong cup of coffee and iTunes blaring. His piled down truck sort of looked like Jed Clampett’s (without Granny on top): an old chest, a folding chair, fly rods, waders, and camera gear. I wondered: has he tied all his gear down well enough? Will he eat right? What if we haven’t prepared him for . . . life?

Each state he crossed is another state that will lie between us.

And though I’m thrilled for him—he’s working with a wildlife video company filming fishing trips and antelope hunts—I’m not so thrilled for me.

There are big lessons here that I don’t really want to learn. But as I go through the pain of separation, God is teaching me. There is still much to be thankful for. And a new chapter of life to embrace. Here’s what I’m trying to do:

Cut the apron strings. Promoting independence instead of dependence is crucial because one day, we may not be around. Our job is to get him ready to stand on his own—to not need us, so much. And yet this sometimes feels horribly wrong, doesn’t it? Refusing to cut the apron strings can actually keep my son from reaching his full potential. I don’t want to do that, but it’s kind of hard to let go.

Be an encourager. I can still play a very important role in Bryant’s life. While I can’t control him, tell him what to do or badger him, I can be his cheerleader. I can stay in tune with his dreams. I can support what he is trying to do. I can say, “I am so proud of you” or “I believe in you.” Everyone needs to hear that far more than unwanted advice or criticism.

Draw a boundary. My son’s life isn’t my life—sometimes the line can get blurry for me. Bryant’s life doesn’t represent me, or my plans, or even my preferences. It represents his. He has the right to choose for himself where and how he will live. He no longer has to answer to me, but he does have to answer to God. This takes the pressure off of me–which in turn takes the pressure off of our relationship. Reading this book has been a lifesaver: Boundaries

Move on. There are still a lot of meaningful things for me to do. With God’s help, I’m slowly recreating my life: writing, speaking, serving and learning a bunch of new things in the process. Slowly, the gaping holes of my empty nest are patching up. I’ve had to change the way I spend my days and weekends—but it’s okay. I’m choosing to embrace the future instead of getting stuck in the past. Actually, I’ve had to do this in other seasons of change—this one is no different—it’s just a little more painful.

Draw closer to God. Really close. Maybe our different seasons are designed to draw us closer to the Lord’s heart. Why? Because that’s where miracles occur. That’s the place where we are most alive. Being in the presence of His love, greatness and excellence rubs off on us. But how do we get closer to God? I’ve written a book about this very subject called Seeking a Familiar Face—it’s coming out next month HOORAY! (More information coming soon)

Has your child has recently left you, too? Gone to college? Just Married? Moved to Montana (or some other distant place)?

I understand how you feel. Don’t fight it. Let go by surrendering to life’s new season. The worst thing we can do is try to keep our lives exactly the same. Cling to the One who can help you through this time. Jesus gives us this wise advice:

If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms. Luke 17:33-34 MSG

Can I pray for you? If you are adjusting to an empty nest or another difficult life change, let me know how I can pray for you right now, by commenting below or sending me a private email at hello@maypatterson.com

And remember the visits are awfully sweet. This is my first visit to Montana to see Bryant:

We can still laugh a little while we’re adjusting! Take the Quiz: How Are You Handling (or will you handle) the Empty Nest? Click here to request this FREE, encouraging (and funny) download!

Print it out, take the quiz and then share this post with your friends. Have a good laugh together as you compare scores!