Today, I was driving home from a friend's house and thinking about things. That sounds like maybe I was thinking about deep, spiritual truths or the course of my life. This is what I was thinking about:

"I like oranges, but they're kind of messy. I don't like messy fruit. I guess, though, if I lived in the 1800s, like in a manor house [ed: just finished Jane Austen book], I would eat oranges for breakfast because it would be a rare thing to have them. I wonder how good they were? They probably didn't get them very fresh. I guess you'd pack them in sawdust or hay or something, like storing apples underground like the pioneers did? What fruit keeps well. Hm. Coconut. I wonder how long coconut lasts if you just let it sit around on a counter. I've opened a coconut before. We slammed it into the garage floor of the DeRoos house. I think you can drain the milk by hammering a screwdriver through one of the little weak spots, but that doesn't really get it open.

"I guess you could use a hatchet? Maybe keep it in one of those clamp things, like for woodworking...I don't know what that's called. Some sort of clamp, though. And then you could hit it with the hatchet. But what if the coconut slips? What if the hatchet has so much force it swings around and ends up in your knee? That sounds like something a little boy would do, something they didn't think through all the way. What if my kids do that? What if Sam does that? What would I do if one of my kids ended up with a hatchet in his knee?"

Okay, so, not pretty. It might have something to do with a film I watched the other day, which was a bit like the Korean version of Man on Fire. But that's the point where I knew I was getting mentally off-track and started praying instead of dwelling on the image.

My prayer went something like this:

"God, please keep my boys safe. As they grow up, keep them from serious injury or anything that threatens their future. Protect them from broken arms and bee stings and..."

It went on for about a minute like that, and then I was a bit bothered by what I was praying. I tried changing my prayer to something more like this:

"Keep them safe from anything that threatens their lives."

And it still wasn't right. Not that it was unacceptable to God, but rather, I wasn't sure I really wanted to be asking Him to do that for my kids.

I fell back on simple prayer as God was revealing something to me.

I started praying: "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done for my boys, in their lives, in their futures..."

And the rest of that familiar prayer from Matthew 6:9-13.

This is what I was thinking:

"You know, I have a lot of friends who wouldn't be following Christ right now if they'd been safe. I have a lot of friends who needed wake-up calls."

And it's true. I've even needed them before. I will pray that God keep my kids from temptation and delivers them from evil. I will pray it sincerely and with trust. But I don't know what that looks like for them.

I was realizing that maybe it's not enough to pray that God keeps my kids safe. I don't know if they'll need to be safe. They might need to be the opposite of safe, sometimes. This doesn't mean that I think God needs to stop watching them or just drop them out of His hands. I love God and I know He loves me and my family; I trust Him to never abandon us. But sometimes, the way He'll work in their lives might not look that safe to me or to them.

It might take a broken arm to respect natural consequences. That might keep them from a lot of even more stupid decisions in the future.

It might take a car wreck to think about what they're doing with their lives.

It might take a broken heart to realize how much they need Him.

So, while my children are babies, my plan is simple prayers. I have nothing against specific prayers for children. Sometimes, you know what you need to be praying for a child. Right now, I pray for good rest and relief from teething pain so they can sleep. I pray that they'll learn to walk without really cracking their heads open.

Ephesians 6:18 says, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people."

I will do that for my children. For myself. For others.

But these general, "God keep my children safe all their lives" prayers? I'm done with those.

My mother-in-law is a lovely lady, full of wisdom and truly in love with the Lord. One of the first times I was visiting her house, we somehow got on the subject of the verse in Numbers 32:23, the one that says that your sins will find you out. In context, it's about some of the tribes of Israel keeping a vow they'd made to God, and what will happen if they fail to keep their word. But she said something about that truth that has stuck with me ever since. It was this:

"What a mercy that is!"

And I said, "Huh?"

And she said: "What a mercy it is that our sins find us out here and now, while we have time to repent!"

What a mercy.

My children are sinners. I cannot change this, no matter how much I would love for them to be innocent and pure and never have to wrestle with sin, to wrestle with the flesh and pain and sorrow and death. Sometimes, I will be there to find out and correct. I have, God-willing, years with them to train and teach and guide and discipline.

But someday, I will not be big enough. I will not be big enough physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Someday they will exceed my ability to reproach or heal. There may be times this happens while they are even still at home. It is not my job to teach them their limits in the natural world; nature will do that just fine, thanks. But beyond my ability, I am grateful that their sins will still find them out.

From Jeremiah 32:18-19:

"Great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve.'"

God will reward my children according to their conduct. Great are His purposes for them! It is beyond my understanding of how they get to those purposes. And in the end, I want their conduct to honor Him. I so very much desire to see them following Christ wholeheartedly, in the joy that comes with submission to His will.

His will. Ay, there's the rub.

I don't know what that is for them exactly. I know they were created in His image, to honor and serve and worship Him. But I don't know exactly how they will do that. I don't know what desires He's planted and will plant in their hearts. I don't know how or when they might get off-track. But I know they probably will. I know I certainly did, more than once. And I know the day will come when they must choose who they will serve, just as I had to do.

And that's why, right now, my prayers for their future must be summed up in a single prayer, uttered with my whole soul:

"Thy will be done."

I would like to make it to the end of my time on earth without taking them to the ER, or visiting them in a hospital, or hearing them cry on the other end of the phone, or holding them close while they pull themselves together again.

But not at the cost of their salvation. Not at the price of their acceptance of our Savior.

It is not enough for me that my children are safe. I don't know what their eternal safety looks like. I must continually remind myself that my eyes are to be fixed on heaven and not on this temporary, short life on earth. Everything must be weighed against that goal.

I want to pray the will of God for my children. Sometimes, I know the Holy Spirit will tell me exactly what to pray or will pray it for me. But when I am just praying for them and their futures, I must put aside all my selfish desires for whole physical bodies, freedom from embarrassment or criticism, freedom from feeling like a failure as a parent, and pray a dangerous prayer.

It is a prayer that led martyrs to their graves. It is also a prayer that led quiet, peaceful people through quiet, peaceful lives during which they blessed others. It is a prayer that has led to a pastor's heartache, a missionary's struggles, an employee's ostracism in the workplace.

It is a prayer that has used a tragedy to draw a hardened heart to the cross, has used a devastating loss to humble the proud.

It is the prayer that led Christ to the cross.

"Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done."

Even in these, my children.