“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff – they protect me.”
Psalm 23:4 (Common English Bible)
Every parent knows what it is like to be awakened in the middle of the night by the cry of a child. “Daddy, there are monsters under my bed,” my daughter, Rachael insisted. “No, sweetheart, there are no monsters under your bed.” “How do you know?” “I’ll turn on the lights and together we will take a look.” Not only under the bed, we also looked in her closet and under the pile of clothes Rachael promised her mom she would pick-up and put away properly. “No monsters.” I kissed my daughter goodnight – again – and I turned off her light and returned to bed.
Years later and a little older, Rachael had other fears but was less willing to voice them. Fortunately, parents develop the capacity to notice little nuances here and subtleties there that betray their child’s fears. Parents stumble over an appropriate response – a response that protects the child’s dignity while comforting the fears. Words are often used. Words of reason, words of encouragement, words of assurance that everything will turnout exactly as it should be. And then, one day Rachael arrived at a place where she was able to tell me exactly what she needed, “Would you stay with me?” “Yes, yes, of course I will stay with you.”
Then the day arrived all to soon, the day I would drop my daughter off for college. After her mother and I helped her move her things into her dormitory room, toured the campus and said our goodbyes, my wife and I went to dinner without our daughter. I remember that day well. My wife, Grace, and I were seated at a Longhorn Steakhouse restaurant and menus placed in our hands. There was an empty chair at the table, one always occupied by Rachael. One glance at the empty chair and the tears flowed. I sobbed.
The tears were less about missing my daughter, though I certainly was missing her. I sobbed because I now understood that I wouldn’t be there when Rachael sensed monsters under her bed. I wouldn’t be there to take her hand when life became less certain. I wouldn’t be there when she simply needed me to “stay with her.” Moravian College was only an hour away but it seemed so much further when it’s your child that is now starting out on their own. I had only one thing I could do now for my daughter. I prayed. “Keep your promise, God. When Rachael steps into that dark place, be with her. Your rod and staff, use them to guide her and protect her. I am calling you out, O, God, on your promise.”