Whose Children Are They, Really?
His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
I must admit that I can't read this story from Luke 2:41-52 without a strong, visceral reaction. When I come upon Mary's line, "Your father and I have been frantic," I am transported to a day about fourteen years ago. My wife, Linda, and I took our two young children to Disneyland. Nathan, at four years of age, and Kara, at two, loved the whole adventure: the rides, the Disney characters, the bands, and even the ducks floating on the man-made river.
We had lunch in an outdoor patio, enjoying a balmy Southern California afternoon. When Kara finished eating, we let her get down and explore the area around our table. It was Disneyland, after all, one of the safest places in the world for young children.
But, all of a sudden, we couldn't see Kara. She had disappeared in an instant. Linda and I jumped up, told Nathan to stay put, and began to look for Kara. Surely she couldn't have gone far. But several minutes of looking produced nothing. Nathan, trying to be helpful, said, "Maybe Kara went to see the ducks." Little did he know that he had spoken one of my greatest fears. If she had gone to see the ducks, maybe she wandered into the river.
Linda and I told the Disney officials, who immediately jumped into action. They radioed others, and, before long, employees throughout the park were looking for Kara. Meanwhile, I kept searching for her, calling her name, hoping desperately to find her looking at Donald Duck or sitting in a flower bed. But no Kara. To quote Mary, I was "frantic." In fact, I have never in my adult life been more afraid. Kara was simply gone.
After about ten minutes of agony, I saw a man carrying Kara. She was safe! It turns out this man had been eating at a table near ours. He thought Kara was with another family, and when that family left without her, he tried to do a good deed. He picked her up and quickly ran after the other family. When he finally reached them, several minutes later, he learned that Kara did not belong to them. He apologized to me about a hundred times in one minute, but I didn't care. Kara was back, and that's all that mattered.
So, when I read the story of Jesus' unexpected disappearance, I relate completely to his parents' distress. I must confess that I even find Jesus' response to his parents to be less than satisfying, from an emotional perspective. Yet his question, "Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?" points to a profound truth about Jesus. Though Mary and Joseph were his human parents, he really belonged to Another. He was, above all, a child of his Heavenly Father. His purpose in life was to do what this Father intended for him.
Fourteen years ago, as I reflected upon what happened with Kara, I realized something that I continue to wrestle with to this very day. My daughter was mine . . . and also not mine. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't control her life as if she were my personal belonging. Kara belonged to the Lord, who was ultimately responsible for her well-being. Moreover, her purpose in life was not to serve me, but to serve the Lord. Though I was overwhelmingly grateful to have Kara back with our family, I understood in a new way that she was the Lord's child. My role as her earthly father was to help her grow to know and serve her Father in heaven, the one to whom she ultimately belongs.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced anything like Mary and Joseph? When? Or do you remember a time when, as a child, you were separated from your parents? How can parents help their children grow in their relationship with their Heavenly Father? Do you think of yourself as a child of your Father in heaven? How does this impact your life?
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, as a parent, I find it easy to fall into a pattern of thinking that my children belong to me. They do in a way, of course. Yet, ultimately, they are yours. They exist for your purposes and glory. My job as a parent is to help them become everything you intend for them. This is a tall order, Lord. Help me to know how best to do this. Help me to see when I need to be more involved and when I need to back away.
I pray today for my —children and, indeed, for all children—that they might know you as their Father. May they experience your love and receive your guidance. May they live in relationship with you through Jesus Christ.
I am reminded today to pray for children who are lost. I'm not thinking of those who are literally lost, though they surely need your help. Rather, I'm thinking of young people who are lost in that they are separated from you, from your love and grace. Draw them to yourself, Lord. Heal their wounded hearts. Clarify their clouded minds. Bring into their lives people who can share your truth with them in love.
Thank you, Father in heaven, for loving me and calling me your child. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
As I did yesterday, I want to add a post script about Laity Lodge Youth Camp, a sister ministry to Laity Lodge and the High Calling. One of the great things about LLYC is that they offer to young people a chance to be themselves as they grow in their faith. As young people mature, they need to get distance from their parents. In this process, they desperately need other strong role models and guides. That is exactly what LLYC provides through the incredible counseling staff, as well as through the camp leadership. Over the years, thousands of young people have become young adult disciples at LLYC. Their faith becomes, not just something given by their parents, but something they claim as their own. I am proud to be associated with such an amazing ministry to young people.