Letting Go and Moving Forward
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Author Jill Savage talks frankly about the challenges she’s faced in the empty nest, including finding out that her son is gay. While they disagree with his current lifestyle, they continue to love him.
Letting Go and Moving Forward
Bob: Mark and Jill Savage will never forget a phone call they received from their adult son, Evan.
Jill: He had been leading worship for this mission trip. He came back; and he called us one Sunday afternoon—just shared his heart, broke down, cried: “This is what I’m struggling with; this has never stopped,”—I mean, just bawled, and bawled, and bawled.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 28th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How would you respond, as a parent, if your son called you to tell you he was gay? We’ll talk with Jill Savage about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking this week about the empty nest years: getting ready for them, entering into them, having the right perspective on what those years are. As we’ve said, those can be challenging steps to take; that can be a challenging time of life for a marriage, for a family, for you.
When, on top of the empty nest, you’re also dealing with other family-related issues, that just compounds the challenge. It’s one thing if you go through the empty nest, and it’s all you’re dealing with; but if you’re dealing with other stuff, it can be pretty tough for folks to make this transition into this stage of life.
Jill Savage is joining us this week. Jill, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jill: Thank you.
Bob: You’ve written a book on the empty nest called Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next, where you talk about letting go of what you need to let go of and about embracing and holding onto what God has for you, going forward. You’ve already shared, this week, that as you went through the empty nest years and your transition into that, you dealt with the news that your husband had been unfaithful. You spent years wondering if your marriage was going to be able to be restored. By God’s grace, it was—[He] did an amazing work.
Bob: What we haven’t talked about is you had some parenting challenges with your son, Evan. Again, he said it’s okay for mom to talk about this; he’s good with what we’re going to talk about here today. Tell us when you started to be concerned about Evan and what was going on in his heart and his life.
Jill: Yes; in fact, he helped me craft his story in the book; because Evan is our number two/second oldest and incredible musician—just an incredible musician—served as a worship leader for years. If there’s anything in the empty nest I’ve missed, it is my children’s music. Evan was the one who has carried that music into his adult years, as well as a songwriter and singer.
He married a beautiful young woman. They were married for four years; then they divorced. Shortly thereafter, Evan communicated to us that he was gay. That was not what I thought my parenting years were going to look like; that was not what I thought our story was going to be. That was not what I expected life to be like.
Bob: You, at that point, started to go back and look at adolescence and go: “Did we miss something here? Was there something going on here? What’s the story?” How did you dissect all of that?
Jill: Yes, we did; because we had had a situation, right when the internet came out. This was before people put any type of a screen on their internet or something to protect you from being able to go all kinds of places. We had discovered that he’d been in some places that he shouldn’t have been, and they were gay websites. That was the first clue that we were like: “Wait a minute. What is going on here?”
We got him in counseling. Six months later, the counselor was like: “I don’t think this is really an issue. I think it was curiosity.” At that point, he agreed with that; but he will now tell us that he kind of went underground with his struggles. We’d check in every once in awhile, but he wouldn’t communicate that there were any issues there.
Ann: Jill, can you go back a little bit to that conversation with him when you found this on the internet. How did you talk to him about that?
Jill: Yes; I remember, of course, we were stunned. No parent prepares/thinks that they’re going to have those; and yet, every parent has to—maybe not about that issue—but other issues. Of course, he downplayed it.
Ann: Did you suggest counseling?
Jill: I think we did at that point or said, “Maybe we should dig into this.” He was open; I don’t remember him dragging his feet on that and being unwilling to go. We chose a counselor that specialized in that. But again, at the end of that six months, or whatever, he was like, “I just don’t think this is an issue.”
Bob: And high school—he dated girls.
Jill: Yes; he actually didn’t date a lot; he didn’t. He had lots of girlfriends. He always went to the Prom, and he always had a date for those kinds of things. But he didn’t have anybody really special. When he went off to college and came back, that’s when he began to date his wife. Certainly, in our minds, we’re thinking, “Okay; things really are behind us.”
Bob: Yes; she obviously thought the same thing. Was she aware that this had been part of his past?
Jill: Not that I’m aware of.
Bob: Okay; four years in, you get news that they’re going through a divorce.
Jill: We know things have been hard for them; we know about that.
Bob: That in and of itself—
Jill: —is really hard.
Jill: It’s really hard. No mom or dad wants their kids to go through a divorce. My heart really broke for them—for both of them—I hated that.
Bob: When did you understand that it was not just a divorce but that this was a part of Evan’s life? Did he—
Jill: He actually had the conversation with us before he had it with his wife. He had just come back from a mission trip. He had been leading worship in Turkey for this mission trip. He came back, and he was just weighed heavily; this was all weighing on him. He called us one Sunday afternoon—just absolutely, just shared his heart, broke down, cried: “This is what I’m struggling with. This has never stopped,”—I mean, just bawled, and bawled, and bawled, and bawled, and bawled.
He was two-and-a-half hours away from us. My momma heart just wanted to hold him and let him cry. At the same time, I’m dealing with the reality of what he’s telling us. We sat—my husband, our son, and I—sat on the phone for probably three hours, crying for probably two of those hours. I mean, it was heart-wrenching. Of course, we said, “You have got to talk to your wife.” That was really difficult for him to wrap his brain around, but he knew he had to. He did very shortly thereafter.
Bob: Was he at a point, where—he knew he was struggling with this—was he at a point, where he was thinking, “I’m going to surrender to it”; or was he at a point, where he was thinking, “I’m going to keep fighting this”?
Jill: I think, at that point, there was a little bit more surrender in it. I thought/I really thought, initially, he was more for the fight. I thought: “Their marriage can still make it! They can get to the other side of it!” But that wasn’t where they ended up going. There were a lot of layers of coming to grips with where things were at and dealing with the reality of what was in front of our eyes.
At this point, that has—we are now years down the road. The choices that Evan has made in his life are choices that we disagree with. We don’t feel like they’re God’s best for him, but we have certainly learned how to love even in the midst of disagreeing. That’s been really important.
One of the reasons Evan really wants us to talk about his story—and he was willing to tell it in the book—he has said/so many times, he’s said: “You guys don’t understand; you don’t understand that you don’t agree with me, but you love me. You have no idea how many of my gay friends don’t have that.” That was my heart in sharing it in the Empty Nest, Full Life book; because regardless of whether it is this issue or other issues, our kids are going to blaze trails, some of which we agree with, and some of which we don’t.
Dave: One of the things you write is: “Let go of your expectations of their priorities and their values.”
Jill: —“and their values.”
Dave: So, how hard was that?!
Jill: Really hard. It is; it is. It could be—I mean, we’re talking here about a homosexual lifestyle; but it could be all kinds of things that they’re choosing to be a part of, and you disagree. What do we do? I think, oftentimes, we believe that, if I accept my child’s reality, then it’s agreeing with. I think that’s what keeps us from loving.
That is not what we have found. Our son knows where we stand on that particular issue; but he also knows he’s loved, and that he is a part of our family, no matter what. I think that our kids, who are walking in ways that are outside of God’s plan for their life—they’re making choices that we disagree with or that we don’t feel are best for them—they still need to know that they’re a part of our family.
Bob: A lot of parents—you know this, you’ve faced issues like this—if your daughter’s living with her boyfriend, and it’s Christmas time, and she wants to bring the boyfriend home for Christmas—if your son’s in a gay lifestyle, he wants to bring his friend over for Christmas—
Ann: Awful hard.
Bob: —or he sends you a wedding invitation. You haven’t faced that yet.
Jill: We haven’t; no.
Bob: Have you talked about what you’d do?
Jill: You know, we have, to some degree; and yet, you also don’t spend too much time going: “Okay; what if…” “What if…” “What if…” We try to live what’s right in front of us; it’s really difficult.
The other piece you put in there is—you go, “Would I go to a wedding of somebody else’s kid that is living outside of God’s plan?” I mean, I’m sure most of us have!—right? I think that that really challenges me in the love department; it really challenges me. That has been the place, where I feel that God has grown me the most. I don’t think—in fact, I know—that my son doesn’t confuse my love with believing that—
Bob: —that this is not God’s best for him.
Jill: Correct. He knows that. He said it himself: “You don’t agree with me, but you love me,”—so that’s clear.
Bob: You’re Jill Savage; you’ve written books on marriage and parenting; you’ve done conferences—20 years of Hearts at Home conferences—helping people get biblically-oriented around this. In the back of my mind, there would, at least, be this little whisper of: “Wait a sec.”
Jill: “What do people think?”
Bob: I’d have this conversation with God—like: “Why am I getting this? I put in my dues. Shouldn’t I get a little—kind of a pass on these hard issues?”
Jill: You know, I think my heart has been protected against that. No, I honestly haven’t; because “Why not me? Why not any of us? This world is a messy place; it is difficult.” My husband was reading a book, not too long ago; the statement in it was: “Life is
95 percent hard.” Honestly, for whatever reason, I’m a bit of a realist, so I think I’ve known that. There has not been a “Why me?”; there’s certainly been an “I’m tired. Lord, I’m really, really tired.”
Ann: Jill, the thing that I’m so inspired about is how you stayed in the game. You have followed Jesus. You haven’t let life’s circumstances, tragedies, or hardships take you out. So often, I think somebody would be like, “I can’t do this anymore!” The picture that I have of you, as we’ve been talking, is the picture of you with your Bible on the pillow. That has obviously been your stronghold, and your life, and your sustenance.
Jill: Yes; my life verse is Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I have had to carry that on. That’s had to be, literally, a physical mantra that I have had to say over and over again.
Bob: We ought to say the context for that verse is Paul talking about the secret of contentment; He’s talking about, “I’ve learned how to be content in want and in plenty.” The “all things that we can do” is we can remain contented if we keep anchored to Christ, whatever our circumstances are. You’ve continued to stay.
Jill: —a bit like Job sometimes. [Laughter]
But going back to God’s Word—I remember, during my husband’s infidelity, and that dark season, God took me to Romans 12:9-21. It’s the verses that talk about love and how love overcomes evil. I’ll tell you what—that’s been a big part of my sustenance—is God’s Word. That became my marching orders; I would read Romans 12:9-21 every single day.
At one point, my husband asked me, “I don’t understand how you have treated me in such a way when I have treated you so poorly.” I remember that moment, thinking—I was walking, minute by minute, with the Holy Spirit; like if the Holy Spirit didn’t give me something to say, I didn’t say anything. I was like, “Okay; I don’t even know how to answer that.” I finally said: “I don’t know, Mark. It’s un-humanable.” [Laughter] He goes, “Un-humanable? What is that?!” I said, “I don’t know; I just made it up right now.”
I went home, and I opened up my Bible to Romans 12:9-21; and I wrote “un-humanable” down the side of it; because that’s what it takes, sometimes, to survive these dark seasons—is when we’re not walking it, He’s walking us through it. We look back—I mean, it’s the old footprints in the sand: “Lord, where were You? Where were You? I only see one set of footprints.” “Oh, I was carrying you.” That’s really at the heart of it.
I think that, when things do go dark, our tendency is to pull away from God’s Word because we feel God “does it” to us. I don’t know why, humanly, we feel that God “does it” to us. Does He allow it?—yes. Does He do it to us?—that’s not in His character.
Dave: Let me read this; you’ve mentioned it several times.
Bob: Romans 12?
Dave: I mean, it is impossible; you cannot do this without Christ who strengthens me.
Dave: Verse 9: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another is love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” I think of your story when I read this just now: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Jill: Go to the very end; go to the last three verses because those were really, really powerful.
Dave: Verse 19? “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge. I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jill: Yes; I read that verse to my husband after he came home. I was sharing with him that that was like my marching orders. We got to that end, and he goes, “You did that!” I said, “I did what?!” He said, “You heaped burning coals on my head.” [Laughter] I said: “What does that even mean? I don’t even know what that part of the verse means.” He said, “You treated me better than I deserve to be treated, and it changed me from the inside out.”
Bob: I go back to the first part of that passage, and I love the fact that there’s a sandwich here. It starts with “Let love be sincere,”—genuine, without hypocrisy—that’s where it starts. Then it says, “Abhor what’s evil; hold fast to what’s good,”—then, on the other side of that—“Honor one another with brotherly affection.” I think that’s the tension that we walk in, which is: “How do we abhor what’s evil?”—we know we’re supposed to do that—“How do we hold fast to what’s good?” But on the front side of that; on the back side of that, it’s got to be love.
Jill: Sandwiched—it’s sandwiched in love. That’s why I say that so much of this journey has been a journey for me to learn how to love at a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced before.
Dave: I think of so many people who, if they were going to write a book about what they went through, if it was anywhere close to what you went through, it would be Empty Nest, Empty Life. It really would because they would be: “I’m empty. I went through all this. My husband’s gone; my kids are gone. I’m just sitting here in a lonely house.”
You wrote the opposite: Empty Nest, Full Life. How’s that?—that’s Christ.
Jill: That’s a beautiful picture; yes.
Ann: Jill Savage, you are an inspiration.
Jill: Oh, you’re so sweet!
Ann: You really are.
Jill: Thank you!
Ann: Thank you for helping us today, and guiding us and inspiring us to walk with Jesus, and to hold onto him.
Jill: Thank you.
Bob: And thanks for writing this so that all of us, who are headed into or in the middle of the empty nest years, benefit from what you guys have walked through during this season of life. Jill’s book is called Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Next. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Once again, conversations like we’ve had today I know can be extremely encouraging for families, who are in very difficult situations, like Jill and Mark were in with their son, Evan. That’s what we’re here for at FamilyLife®. We want to help provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family, day in and day out. That happens because some of you who listen, regularly, make it happen as monthly Legacy Partners. Those of you who support this ministry, month in and month out, you make this daily program and all that we do, here, at FamilyLife possible.
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And we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to share with you, all next week, some of the great messages we just heard on board the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise, week before last. It was a great time; we had a great line-up of speakers, and we’ll share with you some of what the folks on board the cruise had a chance to hear. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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