Thinking-out-loud about parenting (as some of us have been), there's more to it than discipline and punishment, more than love and forgiveness. There are those times when you frantically cast about for whatever it is you can possibly do to help and protect, to heal and make better your children. Not only are they sinners to be dealt with by the Law and the Gospel; they also live in a fallen world full of other sinners (fathers and mothers included), surrounded on all sides, round about, by the curse and consequences of sin. Not only do they have the old Adam to contend with, but the devil hates them and despises the life that God has given them in both body and soul. Read what Dr. Luther has to say about the devil's rage and spite in the Large Catechism, especially in his discussion of the Our Father, and you'll be prompted to pray the more fervently and often; in particular because we pray, not only for ourselves and for the Church and the world in general, but also for our children. Too often, though, I presume that I am taking care of them myself, and then I do not make a point of praying for them as I should.
One of my very good friends was wearing a shirt today, which his wife and children gave him, identifying him as the "Best Dad in the World." We were affectionately teasing him about this, and then I made the comment that he is the best father his children have; at which point a particularly bright young man noted that, well, that isn't really the case. His children, and mine, have a far better Father in heaven. In His foolish wisdom and divine providence, He entrusts them to our care, to a certain extent, but He is never an absentee parent, and we never do go it alone. Remove His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy from the picture, and it's all over. It is good to be reminded of that fact, not only for the sake of calling us human fathers to repentance and humility under God, but especially for the sake or renewing our faith and trust in Him, who is our own dear Father, and we His own dear children, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I've recently had some lessons in this fact, as I've dealt with Zachary's move to Nebraska for the summer, and as I have considered his coming transition to college in Texas this fall. Have I really come to imagine that, for all this time, I'm the one who's been guarding and keeping my son from harm and danger? And should I suppose that his Father in heaven and the holy guardian angels will be less equipped to care for Zach and protect him when he is many miles removed from me? It has been humbling for me to realize that my fear, love and trust have not been in the Lord, the one true God, in this regard. Not only have I been prone to make an idol of my sons and daughters, but I have made a false god of myself, as though I were the author and giver of life to my children. I've been brought to repentance for much the same sort of sin on other occasions, too, such as when Monica had her surgery, or when Ariksander wandered off and went missing. At times like that, I am brought to my knees in prayer. Kyrie Eleison! Christe Eleison! Kyrie Eleison! Lord, have mercy and help me! Really, that needs to be my prayer every day and night.
Today I saw it from another perspective, from the outside looking in, so to speak. "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, sent the postcard," in the case of my own children, time and time again. But this morning it was the little child of some very dear friends, a little boy I had the privilege of baptizing within this past year. The children of my congregation are precious to me as a pastor, especially as I get to catechize them and watch them grow in the faith over time; and the children of close friends can very often seem like extensions of my own family. So, when good or bad things happen to these "little people" who are so near and dear to my heart, I feel it almost as much as I do with my own children. Almost. But there is enough difference to give a greater sense of objectivity, and to maintain a more level perspective.
Certainly didn't expect the day to begin in the way that it did. There were plans in place for our friends, involving some of our children, too, but all of that ended up being delayed to begin with. One of their boys had a sleepover with Ariksander last night, and I was getting into the car to take him home when LaRena stuck her head out the door of the house to say that I needed to hurry; there was an emergency, and the paramedics were on the way. Okay. What's up with that? Sure enough, the paramedics were on hand when I got there. Turns out that little Stefan had a severe allergic reaction to something, and swelled up alarmingly, to an extent that threatened to choke and suffocate him to death. This is a terrifying thing to experience, and as much or more so for a parent to experience in the case of a little child. What do you do?
Our dear Lord Jesus admonishes us not to fear those who can hurt the body but not the soul. We are to fear, love and trust the one true God, who truly is the Author and Giver of life, who both chastens and heals, who kills and makes alive, who destroys and raises up, who humbles and exalts. Yet, the reality is that we do fear for the safety and welfare of our children, and there is hardly any fear that grips a parent's heart like that which surely does when his or her children are threatened or in mortal peril. My heart went out to my friends as they desperately sought whatever they could possibly do to be of help and assistance to their little boy. And I also wanted to do something, anything, to serve and assist both them and him. We all did what little we could, such as it was, but it was Stefan's Father in heaven who cared for his body and spared his young life, even here on earth.
Christians see everything through the eyes of faith, and faith sees the hand of the Lord at work behind His earthly means, His face behind the many and various masks He wears. Thank God for Benadryl, that amazing and marvelous antihistamine, with which He set about relieving Stefan of the harm that had beset him. Thank God for paramedics, through whom He set His healing hand upon the little boy and cared for him. The devil rejoices in malady, and causes it wherever he is permitted his little bit of leash. What is more, Satan then delights, in a case such as this, to attack and accuse the poor, distraught parents, roaring at them with guilt and fault and blame and despair. But the Lord is merciful. Even before we have prayed, He answers. He yanks the devil's chain and shuts the lion's mouth, and He does not suffer His children, big or small, to be overcome with distress. He has His means of grace to cure the soul, and He has His earthly ways and means to heal the body, as well. He was there with those means when Stefan and his family needed them this morning. He gives them all to us by grace, Christ be praised!
We parents are the masks that God normally wears, most of the time, to care for our children. So we can be tempted to suppose that we are the ones who are in charge of them, caring and providing for them. We do what we are given to do, as best we can, but it is only by the grace of God. Truly, our children are ever and always in the care and keeping of the One who loves them even more than we do, who is better able to protect them from all harm and danger than we ever could (or could even imagine). He is the One who has given them life, and who has given His life for them. They could not be in better hands than His.
Dear little Stefan is blessed to have the parents that he does, a father and mother who both clearly love him with all that they are and have, and would lay down their own lives for his in a heartbeat. I felt for them this morning, when there was so little they could do. But in their crisis, in their watching and waiting upon the Lord, I was also called to repentance for my misplaced fear, love and trust, and I was taught once more how to pray (both with them and for them, and for myself, and for us all): "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen! Amen!"