Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Bauer, Michigan.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.
Often when we see a newborn child we are amazed. We can stare at them for hours as they lie sleeping. We consider with amazement how they existed inside the mother for nine months. Often it is remarked with awe as we watch their little nostrils flair slightly with each breath, that they lived for nine months without breathing any air, but suddenly they absolutely need air to breathe. We coo and make various kinds of funny noises and faces, talking in a voice which is very different from our normal tone (we would be embarrassed to talk to anyone else the same way). We look at their tiny fingers and toes and at the wrinkles in their skin and consider how wonderfully they have been made.
Within a few weeks of their birth we begin tirelessly to try to make them to smile. And how ecstatic we are if we get a response (and we do not care if it is a genuine smile or one caused by gas). Later we cannot wait for them to take their first step, clapping our hands and shouting for joy at their “success.” Later yet we are anxious to hear them speak their first word, even if the parents are the only ones who can understand what the child said.
We are often surprised at the first signs of willful stubbornness and rebellion. First we may think it is cute, but later we can easily become angry at their sin. We pray for and anxiously look for the first evidences of their interest in spiritual things. We pray fervently that any interest will be genuine and will grow.
For nine months we, as parents (and grandparents), wait for the ability to see and hold that which lived insecret (Ps. 139:15). And toward the end of the pregnancy it was hard to be patient. Often I think that the Lord makes us wait for several months as a gentle, but very pointed, reminder that the child is not really ours, but His! So quickly we assume possession and ownership. God gives us responsibilities toward the child’s care and training, but we often wrongly jump to the conclusion that responsibility means ownership. Or, worse yet, we often act as if we made the child, taking credit for the things they do or say which are right or popular, as if we made them to be what they are. For example, my child is cute because he or she looks like me. But God made the child fearfully and wondrously, He graciously gave to us the child He made in the dark depths of the mother’s womb. When the child was still unperfect, then the Almighty saw and curiously wrought (Ps. 139:16).
Scripture tells us, “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them” (Ps. 127:3-5a). Children are a gift from God (a gift which keeps on giving¹both happiness and heartache). They are as arrows. We did not make the wood of the arrow; God did. We did not make the feathers; God did. And we had nothing to do with making the stone or metal which makes the point; God did. God made and He still owns the arrows He gives to us.
We did not make up the elements of the arrow, but we do have the responsibility of laboring over the shaft to make sure it is straight and smooth. We search for feathers that their shape and placement on the shaft is just right. And we sharpen the point and firmly attach it, We did not make the child, but we do have the responsibility of raising him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Growing up is tough. It is tough on the child and on the parents. And the older they are, the tougher it seems to be.
Children are not just any arrows. They are arrows in the hand of a warrior. The warrior uses his arrows to defend himself and to attack the enemy. His arrows are vital, essential to his life. Therefore his arrows must be prepared with a great deal of care.
The skilled warrior prepares his arrows carefully. He seeks out the best kind of wood, carefully making sure the grain is straight and true. He carefully cuts it to the right length. He seeks to make round the shaft, and then he polishes it for straight flight. He carefully attaches the feathers so the arrow’s trajectory will be true. He affixes the sharpened tip with equal care because its weight must stabilize the arrow, so it can reach its goal. Then there comes the day when the warrior launches his arrow. He carefully aims at his target, making allowance for distance and wind. But all his skill is for nothing if the arrow has not been shaped well. Unless the arrow has been well made it will not fly true.
Once the arrow is launched, there is little the warrior can do to direct its flight (except to watch and to pray). Everything that could be done, is done. Once it has left the bow, nothing more can be done to shape the arrow.
For years we parents devoted our time and efforts to preparing and polishing the children God gave to us. We worked to shape and to mold them in the right way. We taught, we admonished, we encouraged, we badgered, we bribed, we counseled, and we shouted. We laughed and we cried. Hardly a moment (especially for the mother) and never a day went by that we did not consider the child. In fact, in many ways our whole life changed and was affected by the presence of the child or children. Many times, far more than the child will know, we wept over their sinful actions. But more often we cried because of frustrations at our own weaknesses. And we prayed. We prayed that God would use us, the weakest of means, to work in the hearts and lives of our children, so what we taught in the home and school and what the church taught them would sink in, that is, that the Holy Spirit would speak to their hearts and minds. Though we never worked as much or as well as we should have, we did work very hard in shaping and molding the arrow(s) God gave us.
Eventually the day of launching the arrow arrives. The child may be going off to college. Years ago many parents watched their son enter into the world of the army (because of the draft), and sometimes sent them off to war. Now it is more likely that the child leaves his or her parents’ home to get married.
As the arrow leaves the fingertips, all the work of shaping is completed. Now the parents can only watch (and keep praying). Children are like arrows, not like guided missiles which can receive mid-course corrections. Will the years of shaping, polishing, and balancing be sufficient? How will the scars and wounds of the warrior (parents) affect the flight of the arrow?
And how does the warrior deal with the feelings of a lighter quiver?
The child’s leaving the parental home is a powerful reminder to the parents that the child is not theirs. He or she never was. We may have thought so, or acted as if they were; but they really were not. God made the wood, feathers, and point. He fearfully and wonderfully made the child.
Our children leave our homes and we realize that our calling of shaping and molding them is now completed. We cannot undo anything we did before, no matter how hard we try. In fact, often efforts to “make it right” only do more harm than good. We let go, realizing again that they are not ours, but the Lords. And we are made to realize that our work of Christian parenting was to nurture and shape them for the glory of God. This is humbling, because we are made to realize that constantly we have to fight the unconscious desire to raise them to be our pride and joy.
When the child leaves our homes, there may be ways in which parents can still influence the child. This however requires more wisdom than was necessary before the child left home, especially if the child left home to get married. When the arrow is launched into a marriage’ there is very little the parents can do (or should try to do), and they must recognize and rest in that fact. We may pray that the arrow will fly true. We know that our skills in preparing and in launching were far from perfect. In fact, sometimes we hurt more than help, and even at times we were ruinous to the shaping of a godly arrow. So we pray constantly that God will forgive, and will have worked in the hearts of our child even in spite of us. We pray that God will compensate for our inadequacies and sins, and make the flight true to the goal.
So we let the child leave our home, remembering that we were but guardians of God’s child, stewards of His possession. And we let the arrow fly, putting our confidence in Him. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). The promise of God is that He will use the instruction of godly parents to work faith and repentance in the hearts of the elect, spiritual seed. God usually blesses our efforts and prayers. It is His tremendous mercy that He would use weakest means to fulfill His will. Parenting is a hard work. And it is difficult to let the child go when he comes of age. But that we must do, committing him to the Lord, who alone can care for him (after all, he did when he was under our care).