A controlling mom let go… and her son’s life changed.
We all know the phrase – those two infamous words that capture everything we’re not supposed to be – a “helicopter mom”. I first heard that term in a Love and Logic Parenting class. The helicoptering parent who hovers over their children, swooping in to rescue them from any challenge or discomfort.
At the time I was sure that wasn’t me. 😉
So maybe you’re one of those moms who’s perfectly chill, or who’s finally freed herself from the shackles of helicoptering her children. In the off chance that you’re like me, still humbly discovering how controlling I can be, and painfully learning how to let go… read on.
I’m guessing many of you are familiar with St. Augustine. Not only is he a renowned and beloved saint to Catholics, but even non-Catholic Christians have revered him for centuries, inspired by his riveting conversion story which he chronicled in his book “Confessions”.
They say that there’s a great woman behind every great man. This could not be more true of St. Augustine. And that great woman was his mom. A mom who also, by the way, became a saint herself – St. Monica. Today, August 27th, is the day we call her feast day.
The more I’ve learned about this saintly, yet consolingly human woman, the more she has become one of my all-time prayer warrior mom heroes. What a compelling story this wife and mother has.
Although raised a Christian, Monica was given in marriage by her parents to an atheist man named Patricius. For years Patricius belittled Monica’s Christian faith and betrayed her in marriage. Not only did he antagonize Monica, but his mother who lived with them did as well.
Can you imagine living with a difficult husband and mother-in-law?
As if that anguish was not enough for Monica to endure, her firstborn son Augustine became wild and wayward in his teenage years. In his book “Confessions”, Augustine would later reveal the depths of darkness and sin to which he plummeted during his youth and young adult years. He drank, he partied, he had illicit relationships with women; and perhaps most agonizing to Monica, he had no faith.
Monica was beside herself with heartache and fear for her beloved son. What mom wouldn’t be? Struggling with an aching desire for him to return to his faith, Monica became the ultimate helicopter mom.
The extents to which she hovered over Augustine are somewhat comical to me, offering a sober reminder of the pathetic and downright ridiculous things we do when we turn into helicopter moms.
At the age of 29, Augustine decided to set sail for Rome. Knowing his mother would not approve, he tricked her about the timing of his departure. Somehow Monica discovered his plot and ran to the seaport to stop him. She believed his trip would be futile and only lead to Augustine’s further demise.
Yep, the helicopter mom swooped right on in.
The story gets even better. Augustine and his mistress, together with their child, managed to steal away without Monica, fleeing her grasping hands in the night while she was praying in the chapel. How tragic is that? They boarded the ship and left her while she was praying!
This unrelenting mother still pursued Augustine to Rome, but when she finally arrived, she found that he had moved on to Milan. Though travel was difficult, Monica followed him to Milan too. As I imagine this story playing out, I have to admit it’s hard to believe. I mean, really? This woman sounds crazy!
But how often do I act like a crazy mom too? How often do I project the worse-case scenario on a situation that one of my children or my husband are in? Certain that I know God’s will. Certain that if they just did it my way, things would work out for the best?
The voyage Augustine embarked upon was the last thing Monica wanted; it was not in her plan. It was the furthest answer to her prayer. So she thought…
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)
Augustine’s journey to Rome and then to Milan was much more than just a physical one. This was the journey God would providentially use to accomplish His purpose; to lead Augustine to meet Bishop Ambrose, and ultimately, lead him back to Christianity.
Monica did not think God was answering her prayers as she watched her son set off on that ship, but Augustine’s voyage was in fact the answer to her greatest prayer!
When Monica arrived in Milan, she too met Bishop Ambrose, who had become a mentor to Augustine and would become her spiritual director too.
Desperate for guidance, she pleaded with Bishop Ambrose. Essentially, he told her to pull it together. To stop her nonsense. To let Augustine go. The story goes that Bishop Ambrose spoke convicting words to her, words I have never forgotten since I first heard them:
“Monica, Monica. You need to speak less to Augustine about God, and more to God about Augustine.”
By the grace of God, Monica heard those words, and she acted on them. And that is precisely how this helicopter mom become a saint. And Augustine would later write that that is precisely what made him a saint. In the midst of his mother’s anguish, her rejection, her fear and her doubt, she fell to her knees and prayed.
She took Bishop Ambrose’s advice.
She. Let. Go.
One of Bishop Ambrose’s most famous quotes to Monica was when he looked at her mercifully and said,
“Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”
Monica had to learn how to continually surrender her beloved son to God, and trust that indeed God would not turn his ears to a mother’s tears. How does the story end?
Both Monica’s husband and mother-in-law became Christians before their deaths. WOW.
Her son became one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church. WOW.
Augustine praised God for his mother and her impact on his conversion:
“Graciously you heard her, and you did not despise her tears when they flowed down from her eyes and watered the earth beneath, in whatsoever place she prayed. Graciously you heard her.”
Graciously, God will hear you too. So don’t hover over your children. Hand over your children. Surrender them to God.
He heard the fervent, tireless prayers of St. Monica, and He will hear yours too.