Although it’s been rare, Ellia has struggled with the occasional bout of fear at night. I never know what to do. We talk about the fictional nature of monsters and the fact that Brett and I are a few feet away, and then we pray. Her fear has grown in intensity since being home from the hospital. She’s used to us being in the cot on the floor. She’s used to a nurse checking in every hour. The dark, the remnants of sickness, and the lack of company are begging her to be scared.
Every night we go in to comfort. What do I tell her? I can’t tell her bad things aren’t real. I can’t tell her she has nothing to worry about. I can’t tell her that her father and I won’t let anything happen. I’ve learned those things aren’t true. I’ve learned that there are things that are going to happen to her, painful things, frightening things, and I can’t do a thing to stop them.
In parenting, and love, there is no control. There are no guarantees. There is only open handedly enjoying the moment, mourning the pain and embracing the challenges. I don’t own my kids. I can’t control their environment. I want to absorb the pain so that Ellia doesn’t have to feel it. I want to shoulder the suffering she goes through emotionally and physically every time a nurse enters the room. I want to protect her from the anxiety of getting sick again, her fear of not walking, and the pity looks she gets.
I can only assume that when Jesus hears us beg for a pain-free existence that his heart is empathically moved. He wants to absorb our pain, shoulder our suffering, protect us from the anxiety and fears that plague our hearts. He doesn’t distantly remind us that life is hard and we’d better learn to deal.
Sometimes I’m guilty of thinking that the love of God resembles a security system and a swat team, ready to jump the moment something’s awry. That’s how I want to love as a parent. For better or for worse, that’s not how love can be.
Love is not a safe-guarded, plastic-wrapped romantic comedy. Love happens in the midst of everyday crap storms. This is nothing new—we think we’ll help God out, control what he’s not willing to control, fix what he’s not willing to fix, until we realize we can’t. Our heart might be in it, but this kind of protection and control are beyond our capabilities.
Then, I think of God as Parent. God offers no contract of protection. He only offers a covenant of relationship. “I’ll go before you. I’ll lead you. I’ll be your God. You’ll be my people.” The poetic language of the Old Testament might mislead us into thinking that covenant guarantees success with enemies and longer life expectancy. But, we can see from the narrative that this is far from true. Israel still walked an uncertain path. There was undoubtedly difficulty, sickness, and death. But the people of God walked this path with the Presence.
What do I have to offer to Ellia even now as I hear her? What do I tell a three-year-old with real reason to fear? What do I tell a child who is experiencing real pain? Do I tell her there’s no monster when I know there is an invisible enemy invading her body?
Ellia has a path to walk. It’s not mine or Brett’s or Olive’s. Only Ellia can walk this path. All I can offer her is strength for her journey—encouragement for the difficulty she’s faced and will continue to face. The security of God does not mean the avoidance of bad circumstances, but the promise of God in the midst of anything. God will go before her. God will lead her. He will be her God. Ellia needs to know that God’s security may not look like what she’d prefer. A sterile contract may be more appealing at times—tell me, God, that I won’t feel pain. However, God extends covenant.
I’m too immature to understand the greatness and magnificence of covenant. The less we understand of God, the less valuable to us is the promise of his character. If I am to shepherd Ellia well, I must first live in the fullness of who God is.