One of my daughters used to come to me as a toddler and request, "In the air, Daddy, in the air!" She wanted me to hurl her up and catch her. I did so to her utter delight.
My other daughter saw this and asked me to toss her too. Yet as she leveled off, her face contorted into sheer terror. When I caught her, she clung to me with all four limbs and begged, "No, Daddy! Not again!" Later I considered why the same flight gave joy to one and terrorized the other. One focused on my ability to catch her, and the other focused on her inability to control the flight.
As my children develop more independence, I find myself in a similar situation. I still see them hurled in the air, but instead of me doing the tossing and catching, God flings them while I helplessly watch from a distance. In those moments I become acutely aware of the struggle between my confidence in God's ability versus my own.
Every parent faces this tension. We want our children to follow God, but we hesitate to let God lead them. We want to provide, protect, and direct them so that they will receive the good we desire for them. And so in a strange irony the very love that wants the best for them becomes the barrier that keeps them from receiving it.
Jacob faced a similar challenge. In Genesis 37 we read that old Jacob dearly loved his sons—Joseph, in particular. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and smeared his garment with goats' blood to fool their father. Seeing the blood-soaked clothes, Jacob exploded in grief: "It is my son's robe. Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces" (v. 33). Yet God superintended all events in expectation of a great famine that would soon ravage the earth. Though Joseph suffered as the victim of foul play, the Bible repeatedly notes, "The Lord was with Joseph" (39:2–3, 21–23). Joseph rose to become Egypt's second-in-command and stored up grain in preparation for the famine.
When Jacob heard of the grain because he was in Egypt, he sent his sons. But "Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph's brother, with the others because he was afraid that harm might come to him'" (42:4). In Egypt the brothers did not recognize Joseph, and the very one Jacob refused to release into God's control, Joseph required before they could purchase more grain. (See the irony in God's sovereign plan?) When the brothers reported to their father, Jacob clung to Benjamin: "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow" (42:38).
Three decades earlier Jacob wrestled with God for control of his life, and before God could bless Jacob, He had to cripple him. Now Jacob found himself again wrestling with God, afraid this time to trust the Lord with his son.
Each parched day of the famine followed another until finally Jacob surrendered. "If it must be," he conceded, "take your brother also and go back to the man at once. …As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved" (43:11, 13–14). God's sovereign orchestration of events wrenched Benjamin from Jacob's arms and forced him to do what he would never do otherwise: trust God with his sons. John Calvin wrote of this passage, "From the example of Jacob let us learn patient endurance, should the Lord often compel us, by pressure of circumstances, to do many things contrary to the inclination of our own minds; for Jacob sends away his son, as if he were delivering him over unto death."
We can hold nothing—not even a child—more dear than our trust in God. If we authentically trust God's sovereignty and power, we will rest in the assurance that our sons and daughters remain as safe in harm's way as in their beds at home. On the other hand, if God allows them to go before us to heaven, no amount of protection will prevent such circumstances.
We will seldom experience the peace we seek without surrendering to God that for which we pray. Ultimately our comfort cannot come from the assurance that God will protect our children, ironic as it sounds. Our comfort comes by trusting a God who remains in complete control and who will accomplish His good purposes even in the worst circumstances. That cannot change, even when evil appears to have won the day.
Jacob enjoyed not only the restoration of Benjamin, but much more than he could have imagined. "I never expected to see your face again," Jacob told Joseph, "and now God has allowed me to see your children too" (48:11). Jacob seemed almost ashamed he ever doubted God's grace and sovereignty. Though Jacob stood powerless to shelter his son from harm, "The Lord was with Joseph," and so we know God remains with our children whether in our care, or far removed from the safety we can provide.
I confess these principles come easier to write than to do. As I watch God toss my daughters in the air, I tend to focus on my inability to control the flight instead of God's ability to catch them. In this I find a gnawing conviction that I would rather feel in control than allow God to guard and guide the future of my children. Such is the challenge of all believing parents.
Our love for our children grows to resemble God's love for them when we allow the Lord to lead them as He chooses. And we find as God leads them, He also takes us to new levels of faith. Giving God the freedom to rule the lives of our children provides us the peace our own wasted efforts for control fail to furnish. God's sovereignty demands our surrender, yes. But in surrendering to God, the humble parent bows not in an admission of defeat, but in an act of worship.
Wayne Stiles (MA/CE, 1991; ThM, 1997; DMin, 2004) serves as executive vice- president and chief content officer at Insight for Living. He and his wife, Cathy, have two daughters and live in Aubrey, Texas.