One of the most common prayer requests I receive is that of parents seeking prayer for their children. Children who are sick or stressed, having a tough time at school or having a tough time at life. One has a big math test coming up. Another has an addiction to meth.
Once a middle aged man sought prayer for his daughter without telling me much about her. This is not uncommon. Not everyone wants to divulge details, and prayers don’t have to be peppered with personal information to be effective. Especially in this situation it turned out. I began to pray and within seconds, this father was sobbing. He soon fell against my shoulder and into my arms, his body convulsing. It surprised us both. Yet it also made total sense given his deep need for God to meet his deep well of pain. I unlocked the church doors, led him inside, and invited him to sit for as long as he needed. After ten minutes or so, he came back out and slipped past me with a quick nod of thanks. I can only wonder what was going on with his daughter.
I once heard a spiritual director say that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body. That image is spot on in my experience. I’ve been a parent for only a decade, but I know the feeling of heartbreak when your child is wronged or hurt or deeply disappointed. Compassion is accompanied by anger at injustice, the fierce instinct to protect, and an acute sense of helplessness because you can’t fix any of it. Perhaps it’s all summed up by what Simeon said to Mary. Jesus was still a newborn, Simeon gave a prophecy alluding to Jesus’ death, and then he told her, “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35). Some translations use the word “heart” rather than “soul.” A sword will pierce your heart. The heart walking around outside your body.
Of course, Jesus had another parent - God the Father, who is our Father too. This means that parenthood gives us a glimpse of how God feels about us as God’s children. Imagine our maternal and paternal feelings of love and joy, longing and heartache magnified a million times over. This is how much God cares for each and every one of us. The love of God is the only love that is truly unconditional, and it will never let us go.