by John Ellis
There are moments that remind parents that our children aren’t really ours, not really. Moments that interrupt daily life, underscoring parents’ finiteness and the fragility of our children. Moments that stand still in pain and hopelessness while you implore, to no avail, for time to reset itself back into daily life.
Tuesday evening as I sat reading on our back-deck, the weak yet desperate cries of help coming from the front yard were the first signal that a chain of unwanted moments for my family had been set in motion.
At first, I thought the cries were the neighbor kids playing across the street. The neighborhood kids, including my children, frequently play imaginative games that include a variety of believable and concerning dialogue and delivery if you didn’t know they were playing. A couple of years ago, a concerned and visibly perturbed mom approached me on the playground and demanded that I attend to my hurting child. “Get up, Hayden,” I commanded. “And show this lady that you’re fine.”
But Tuesday evening as I continued reading, the cries continued, too.
After a minute or so, I began to become concerned as those cries were the only voice I heard. Setting my book down, I got up, annoyance perverting my concern, and made my way around the side of our house.
I’ve seen angulated broken bones before, but only in videos of skateboarders crashing. Rounding the corner of a house and seeing your seven-year old son lying on the ground crying in obvious pain with his arm going in different directions provokes quite a different response than do YouTube videos.
The fear and confusion in his eyes, his sobs muted by pain, and the graphic physical trauma was a moment I’ll never forgot. It’s a moment that replays unwanted in mind every time I stop doing something. Mercifully, my son will most likely not remember that moment outside of an abstract memory. For me, that moment is a reminder that no matter how much I may want to, I am unable to shield my children from the curse of sin, and that’s a hard reality to face as a parent.
Later in the hospital, I was confronted again with my helplessness as I was asked to leave the room so that they could do the bone reduction. I understood why and had explained to Hayden that I would be right outside the room while the doctors fixed his arm. Although the doctor and nurse had already told him, I repeated that they were going to give him some medicine that would keep him from feeling or remembering the procedure. Leading up to that moment, he had calmly accepted the news as he watched the baseball game on the TV. But, when that moment arrived, as the room filled with equipment and people, his eyes widened, his lips trembled, and he fought back at the gathering tears when I told him that I had to leave. I had to fight back tears, too, because I knew that he didn’t need to see his father scared and worried in that moment.
Sitting in the hallway, I prayed for steady hands for the doctors and nurses, for quick healing for Hayden, and for my fear. For the first time, able to reflect some on the evening’s moments, I realized how scared I was and how helpless I felt. It terrified me to think that the conscience sedation might not work, and Hayden would suffer terribly as they reset his bones. It terrified me to think about what would have happened if I had been inside instead of outside. If I had been inside, chances are I wouldn’t have heard his weak cries and he could have spent an hour or more lying in the grass in agony.
To be clear, it wasn’t some sort of miracle that I was outside. Weather permitting, I’m usually outside at that time, reading. But in moments of doubt and fear, humans tend to entertain “what ifs,” which is mostly an unedifying activity. It feeds our fears.
By God’s grace, I know that it isn’t edifying to allow my fear and sense of helplessness to grow through a pointless exercise in thinking about possible worst-case scenarios. You see, God is 100% sovereign. There are no such things as “what ifs” in God’s economy. And so I prayed and continue to pray against my fear and feeling of helplessness.
The truth is, there are moments when parents are helpless, more moments than we’d like to admit. We’re not omniscient nor are we omnipresent. And none of us are as selfless and loving as our kids need. Yet, even in our finiteness, as parents we are still called to reflect to our children the love of the Heavenly Father. We are called to point our kids to Jesus, not just through our words, which are incredibly important, but also through our actions. It’s natural and right for parents to feel concern for their children. The question parents need to ask is, “Has my natural and right concern crossed into faithless worry?”
Beginning with that moment Tuesday evening when I rounded the corner of my house to now, there have been times when my answer to that question has been, “Yes, my concern evidences lack of faith.”
The next question becomes, “What next? How am I as a parent and, more importantly, a child of God, going to respond?”
There’s the temptation, of course, to slide into some version of a helicopter parent. Hayden loves climbing and swinging and jumping. Last weekend, he proudly showed me his standing front flip. When his arm is healed, his cast off, and the memory of his trauma has mostly faded from his mind but not from mine, will I allow my fear to curtail his little-boy activities? Will I attempt to control what I cannot?
Or will I use my fears and doubts to teach my son about the One who uses all things for the good of His children? The One who takes our suffering and uses it to glorify Himself as His Spirit makes us more like Jesus through it.
You see, by God’s grace and to the best of our ability, while parents are tasked with standing as a bulwark against sin’s effect, our primary job is to point them to the ultimate solution to sin’s effects.
The series of painful, scary moments that Hayden and our family went through (and probably aren’t finished going through) is an opportunity to tell Hayden about how arms aren’t supposed to break, boys aren’t supposed to suffer for doing little-boy things like running and playing, and that pain isn’t supposed to be a part of human existence. But sin broke the world, and like how the doctors and nurses work to fix his broken arm, the Great Physician is working to fix this broken world.
And the only way that parents can finally protect their kids from sin’s effects is by introducing them to the only one who can not only fix but reverse sin’s effects. Jesus took on himself all the pain and brokenness produced by the sins of those who repent and believe. He willfully and lovingly mounted the cross, suffered, and died and then was resurrected three days later so that those whom the Father has given him can enjoy the eschatological reversal of the Fall.
Until Jesus returns, arms are going to continue to break, parents are going to continue to demonstrate faithless fear, and people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities are going to suffer. After his return, Jesus will usher those who have repented of their sins and placed their faith in him into God’s new heavens and new earth to enjoy God’s blessings for all eternity. However, for those who refuse to submit to God through faith in Jesus, their broken bones, faithless fear, and suffering will be eternally multiplied because their unrepentant sin is rebellion against the eternal Sovereign Creator of all.
At the moment, Hayden is happily watching cartoons, a perk of having a broken arm. He grumbles and flashes a bad attitude when it’s time to take his medicine. He has begun asking for playmates to come over, something that me and my wife’s fear has yet to allow us to agree to. He plays with the toys the neighbors have sent over. He pouts when we turn the TV off and make him go sit outside and read. He is our sweet, little boy who is piling up moments that exhibit his finiteness, his sinfulness, and the fact that he has been made in the Image of the King of Kings.
As I prayerfully confess my lack of faith and pray for healing for Hayden, I also pray that the Great Physician will use these moments to heal the most broken thing about him – his sinful rebellion – and that the Holy Spirit will give my son the gift of repentance and faith and change his heart of stone to a heart of flesh. As much as I want to protect him from life’s moments that remind us of sin’s curse, my greatest desire is to see the Holy Spirit protect my son from the final moment that will bring the eternal weight of sin’s curse down on those who refuse to submit to God through faith in Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria