Every night in the summertime, I fall asleep with fears of cars and water. I'm not a particularly anxious mother. I don't worry about germs. I'm pretty relaxed about the possibility of injury on a playground. But it takes every spiritual and emotional resource I have to avoid playing out my most terrifying scenarios—of Marilee, 18 months old, running away from me into the road just as a truck pulling a boat turns the same corner … of Penny, 6, thinking she really can swim all the way to the raft even though Mom said to wait … of William, 4, chasing the ball into the street and forgetting, just once forgetting, to look both ways.
I try to avoid reading or listening to news about the accidental deaths of children, and yet these tragedies sear themselves upon my memory. I can't forget the story of a friend of a friend whose youngest son wandered upstairs, turned on the bath water, and drowned. Or the woman at church whose brother backed the car out of the driveway and killed his toddler daughter. Or the recent news of a yacht that capsized near Long Island this Fourth of July, leaving three children trapped inside. In a terrible irony, Victoria, David, and Harlie were in the yacht's cabin "because we felt it was the safest place," said Victoria's mother, fighting back tears on the Today show.
They are horrible stories. They trouble me so much because I know they could happen to us, and because I cannot explain them. Other tragedies fit much more readily into my theological grid. Cancer? I don't like it, but I can explain it: all creation has fallen and groans under the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). The deaths of September 11th? Horrific on a grand scale, and yet easily explained as an example of human depravity, of the repercussions of hatred. Even the deaths that come in the wake of natural disasters often bear the mark of sin—buildings that topple in an earthquake due to shoddy construction, which often reflects greed and corruption … levees failing in New Orleans due to inspectors who lied about their integrity …
But a toddler who drowns in a bathtub? A kid hit by a car when the driver was observing the speed limit? It has led me to conclude that accidental death may be the epitome of evil. It is senseless. There is no one to blame. There is no way to think it through.
I address my fears in practical ways—swimming lessons for the older kids and constant repetition of the rules about parking lots and crossing the street. And I tell myself that even though cars and water pose real threats, the statistics are on my side. Most kids in America live long lives. Most accidents don't end in death. And yet the most important way for me to confront these possibilities is by talking it through, wrestling it through, with God. In prayer, I try to give my anxieties to Jesus. In prayer, I ask, I plead, for his protection upon my children.
Every night I chase away my fears. And every night I also sing to Penny and William. They have taken to asking for "church songs" instead of lullabies before bed, and a recent favorite is "Beautiful Savior," a contemporary hymn written by Stuart Townend. The song revolves around a vision of heaven, "of death defeated and life without end." My children are vulnerable to sickness, to accident, to death. I will do everything I can to protect them from it, and yet my confidence in their safety rests not upon statistical probabilities or recitation of safety guidelines. My confidence, my hope for their safety rests not upon some belief that prayer serves as a magical incantation guaranteeing a free pass from suffering or loss. Rather, my confidence—my shaky, please don't let it happen to me confidence—rests in the hands of a God who has experienced death, a God who has overcome death, a God who will one day defeat death once and for all.
My confidence rests in the hands of a God who considers the accidental death of children so senseless, such an affront to the good order of creation, that he would enter into death itself, undo the power of the ultimate destruction, in order to give the gift of life, and life eternal. And so I sing to my children of death defeated and life without end. And I pray, and I pray, and I pray, that we would be delivered from evil, that the Lord would keep my children safe.