“Every time I look up at the sky I want to pray,” said Reuben as we stood in the morning dark at the bus stop.
His mop of hair still bore evidence of pillow-smoosh. There was a tired raspiness in his voice. His backpack weighed on his little shoulders. He turns seven this week, him in his little Spiderman shoes and fleece jacket that is showing a bit more wrist than I was aware of. Children grow whenever you aren’t watching.
I looked at my son, and I thought, “Whenever I look at my children I want to pray.” Or at least I feel the urge to, feel the necessity of doing so.
“Maybe that’s why God didn’t have me die when I broke my head in Chile. So I could pray.”
It takes a few seconds for me to remember how to breathe. “He has great plans for you, Reuben, and He was merciful to me too, to not make me lose my dear son.”
He came close, so close that all I could see of him was wild blonde hair and a backpack on the horizon of his head. “I wouldn’t have gotten to know Henri. I wouldn’t have gotten to go to school.” He weighed what he would have missed. I weighed it too and found it unbearable to think of; how different our family would be without him.
“It should make you a bit more careful, you know, knowing how close you came. You often do dangerous things,” I couldn’t help but say, appealing to this rare moment when he might question his perceived invincibility. “Yeah,” he said and gave me a half smile.
Let me tell you how Reuben makes friends. We go to a park and I see him scanning the assembled children. Targeting the oldest and tallest among them, he goes and climbs to the highest point on the playground, shouts for their attention, and proceeds to jump off. Wins a crowd every time. He then dashes off yelling, “Come on!” And they do. I even overheard one older kid saying to his friend, “Let’s go with him, he does dangerous stuff.”
He’s seven and he has a ceramic plate in his head, has had stitches under his chin, and right now has a slowly healing broken pinky (because he keeps jamming it and re-injuring it). His most treasured possession is his pocket knife. He longs for the day when I’ll let him use my chef’s knife instead of the smaller paring ones. He has an unnerving tendency of walking right down the middle of the road when we go on walks, just naturally drifting there whenever I blink. I almost lost him once, and it seems he is bent on keeping up the suspense.
Oh yes, when I look at my children I want to pray.He’s seven on Friday, but yesterday he was born. I know. I know I can’t stop him from living life Reuben-style. No matter what it does to my blood pressure, nor how many gray hairs it causes to sprout on my head.
And truly, he does come by it honest. The thrill of speed, of adventure, and yes, of danger. Though I’m now less of a soaring hawk than a protective hen, in my childhood I had a distinct and thorough joy of riding hands-free on my bicycle (likely right down the middle of the road), of skiing as fast as I could straight down a black diamond slope, of throwing the throttle wide open on our four wheeler, delighting in the weightlessness I’d feel as my light frame would lift out of the seat when I hit a bump, being held in place only by my fingertips on the handles. I lived the myth of invincibility with rigor, and fortunately for my health but not for growing in wisdom, with little consequence. Oh, God’s mercy.
So I see it; the way our invincibility grows as we do into vulnerability. As we see and experience tragedies, as we are hurt physically and emotionally, as we find that loving might mean losing. As we become parents and find that our hearts no longer reside safe within our chests, but walk about on little legs that rush to danger.
So, I cannot get over what God did.
A little garden tomb we made during Lent, putting candles on the stepping stones and reading a devotional together each evening leading up to Good Friday, when we sealed up the tomb with a small clay caterpillar inside, wrapped in a cloth. Easter morning the tomb was empty, the cloth neatly folded, and a butterfly rested in the tree symbolizing His resurrection.
God sent His Son knowing He would die a painful death out of love for us. That is astounding. Jesus went from being invincible truly to truly vulnerable. For us. I realize that as potent as my love feels, as thick and wide, it is a pale love compared to the Father’s. Protective love has nothing on sacrificial love.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” -John 15:13
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” -John 10:11
I hold these thoughts in my heart as the morning light pours into the living room, as my baby within kicks and turns and Henrik snores softly in his playpen. As I plan a party to celebrate my Reuben and his seven years of life. I hold this awe that God, the only one to enjoy true invincibility, became vulnerable, became hurtable, and mortal. From all-powerful to all-dependent on a human mother. Astounding.
If I could I would put a protective bubble around my son, so nothing could harm him, so I would not have to experience the soul anguish of losing him. But my love is weaker than God’s. So much weaker. He gave the son He delighted in to redeem us, His rebellious and unruly creations. He lavishes love on the unlovely. He at great cost extends us mercy. May we awake to that marvel, may we be astounded.