I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. [Psalm 18:1-3 (NLT)]
It was every parent’s nightmare; while the Dad was changing the toddler’s diaper, his four-year old daughter wandered away and disappeared in the zoo! We saw him as he was frantically asking people, “Did you see a little girl in a pink bike helmet?” As he went racing down the path toward the alligators and lions, we went toward the lemurs and play area. Fortunately that pink helmet made her easy to spot as she stood watching the black bears lumber through their enclosure. As we walked her back to her father, I said a prayer of thanksgiving that she would be returning home safely that day.
I thought of that anxious father the next day when reading Pearls Before Swine, a comic drawn by Stephan Pastis. Goat is extending sympathy to Pig for his grandma’s death when Pig carries him off. In the next few frames, Pig carts off his friends Duck and Cat. Next, we see all of Pig’s friends stuffed in a box under a sign saying, “SAFE PLACE WHERE I CAN KEEP AN EYE ON EVERYONE I LOVE SO NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN TO THEM.” The label on the box read, “Bad things stay away!” In the last frame, when Goat tries to explain that it doesn’t work that way, Pig just responds, “Don’t distract me. I’m standing guard.” Like Pig, I wish I could keep bad things from happening to those I love but I know I can’t. When my grands visit, determined that nothing bad is going to happen to them on my watch, I’m on high alert (and probably over protective). Of course, if parents and grandparents could, we’d erect a wall of protection around our loved ones to shield them, not just from death, but from heartache, injury, disappointment, and pain.
It would be a miracle if the worst that happens to that little girl is getting lost at the zoo and, while her pink bike helmet may protect her when she falls off her trike, it’s of little use elsewhere! We live in a fallen world: a world with disease, defiance, pain, sorrow, falseness, mistakes, greed, betrayal, loss, violence, malice, and death. Chances are that our children and grands will go further astray than just to the bears’ enclosure at the local zoo. Unlike Pig, we can’t stuff those we love in a box and stand guard over them night and day. Instead, we teach, encourage, warn, guide, lead, love, discipline, forgive, pray, equip them, and let them go. Although we provide them with God’s armor, we can’t make them accept or wear it.
We protect our gates, are cautious of what we allow into our homes, and stay alert to the dangers around us but what about when our loved ones leave home to lead their own lives? Many of the Psalms speak of God being a shield but that seems more figurative than literal. Although Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego exited that fiery furnace unscathed, others weren’t that fortunate. Consider the fates of Stephen, the prophet Zechariah, John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Paul, and James! Sadly, there is no fool-proof way to protect our loved ones from Columbines or Sandy Hooks any more than we can from disappointment, grief, cancer, mental illness, rejection, failure, or death.
I used to ask God to be with my children and grands until I realized how silly my request was; He’s with them always! I now ask God to guard them from evil by making His presence known to them and His voice heard by them. As I pray God’s blessing of protection over my loved ones, I give them to Him, trusting that He will bring them safely home, if not in this world, then in the next!