Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me…My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:11b-12a, 15)
It’s that time of year again. Time for school bells to ring, time for the intoxicating smell of fresh-out-of-the-box crayons, the glorious feel of newly-sharpened pencils and never-been-used erasers, the eager anticipation of blank notebooks and composition books just waiting to be written in. Time for buses to lumber down our street, quiet in the mornings but bustling with noise and activity in the afternoon. Time for bedtimes and lunchboxes and homework and after-school activities.
For me, it’s also time to pray in community. Nothing is more important – or special – to me than the time I spend interceding with other moms on behalf of our children, their teachers, our schools, and our city. It’s one of my very favorite parts of back-to-school: the opportunity to reconnect with my Moms in Prayer groups.
As moms from around the northeast DFW area rallied to lift up our children on the first day of school, however, I was convicted. I realized I’ve been doing it wrong. Not necessarily the praying part, because at its core prayer is simply talking to God. And being genuine before the throne of Almighty God is what He desires. Rather, I was convicted about what I was asking for my children. Based on the example of Christ Himself, God revealed a better way.
On the most difficult night of His life, Jesus’ response was to pray. John 17 records Jesus’ beautiful and heartbreaking prayer for our benefit. We see Christ at His most human, but also His most divine. We see Him vulnerable, hurting, crying out yet willing, yielding, and surrendering to His Father’s will and His Father’s way. We see Him in all His human weakness and frailty as well as all His divine strength and power. But the key to my conviction is contained in the heart of His prayer for us.
If you reread those verses, you’ll notice the repetition of one word. One word that encapsulates His singular plea on our behalf. One word that emphasizes our greatest need as believers. Do you see it? It’s not faith. It’s not joy. It’s not grace or kindness or love or an easy path or any of those things we elevate in our own minds as hallmarks of the Christian life. No, Jesus didn’t pray for those things for us. He prayed for this: protection. Three times in those three short verses He uses the phrase protect them. He prayed, not for us to be spared difficult experiences, but for us to be protected from them.
That’s where I realized my mistake. I’ve been praying for my children to be spared: from bullying, from teasing, from cliques, from mean girls, from seemingly unfair teachers, from anything that might hurt their feelings or cause them pain or make them uncomfortable. What I should be praying for instead is that God will protect them. Protect their hearts, and not allow bitterness or anger or rage to take root. Protect their minds, to keep them pure and wise in their thoughts and plans. Protect their speech, to keep it good and true and right in the midst of their chaos. Protect their steps, to keep them heading in the right direction, to seek godly counsel, and to be a light that others can follow. Protect their spirits, to keep them from being crushed, to allow these fires to refine them, to slough off the dross and uncover the beautiful, priceless treasure within, to be drawn closer to His presence and made more like Him.
Praying for the hard thing is a hard thing. No parent likes to see their child hurting, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. No one wants bad things for their child. But as Christ prayed for me before my Heavenly Father, He knew that it is only through those hard things that I discover His character, His nature, and can claim these things for myself.
Convicted, and following His example, I am learning to pray the hard thing for my children: Father, protect them. Let the hard things come…but protect them in the process.