On Protection in the New Year

Ocean

When I look back at parenting small children I sometimes take in a sharp breath. Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy, in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

And I think about protection. And how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.;cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy, and we let them out of our sight. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

What about us? What about me and my family in the new year? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is protection from God born, not of isolation, but of exposure?

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.

A year ago I wrote a piece on fear. In that piece I wrote this:

“While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.”

While thinking about protection, I picked up a Christmas present from my daughter, Annie. The book is a new one by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. I loved Biss’s first book, No Man’s Land, and my daughter was quite sure I would love this one as well. Her most recent work comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield ourselves from all the danger, sadness, hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

The more I ponder this, the more comfort I feel. The picture I see in my mind is me, standing on the sand of a vast ocean, holding my arms forward in surrender, in humility. Like the tide of the ocean, the year will come with joy and with sorrow, it will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel exposed but I will never be without his Presence.

As I was writing this, a memory came to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.” I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” Isaiah 66:13a