Backpack on, paperwork filled out, hugs given – our child was ready for his first day of preschool.
The question was: Was I?
I was confident in our well-researched choice of preschool and loved the teachers. I knew my son was ready for the opportunity to learn and grow with other children in this new setting. But I was caught off guard by my own trepidation – that day would be the longest I had been away from him since his birth.
As parents, we are used to managing the moment-by-moment care of our children from day one. And yet, at one point or another, the time comes to place these beloved small persons into the hands of other caretakers for an increasing amount of time. These are joyful milestones, but we may also wonder, Will our children be safe and thrive, physically and emotionally, while not in our physical care?
While it’s natural and important to be wise about the quality of our children’s care and surroundings, we also have a right to challenge oppressive fear that would try to rob us of the joys of watching our children become increasingly independent. Not every moment of parenting will be filled with bliss. But we don’t have to feel trapped by fear.
When faced with my own feelings of fear and helplessness as a parent – like on that first day of preschool – I have often found a meaningful, encouraging example in Hagar, a biblical woman who learned this lesson in a powerful way.
The book of Genesis recounts that Hagar, one of Abraham’s wives, gave birth to Ishmael. But after Ishmael mocked the son of Abraham’s first wife, both Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. They then found themselves alone in the wilderness with no water. Unable to bear the possibility of her child’s seemingly certain death, Hagar placed Ishmael under a shrub and began to weep.
In that moment of utter helplessness and despair, though, the Bible tells us that “God heard the voice of the lad” (Genesis 21:17, emphasis added), comforted Hagar, and met the needs of both. Not only were Hagar and Ishmael sustained in the wilderness, but they both went on to experience fruitful and abundant lives.
It may seem like a stretch to liken Hagar’s situation, stranded in the wilderness with no water, to the fears of sending one’s child to school and gradually relinquishing moment-by-moment care. And yet, it seems to me that there’s a relevant lesson here. Perhaps in placing her child under a shrub and stepping away, Hagar was facing the realization that she would not always be able to meet her child’s every need in every moment, albeit in a most horrifying circumstance.
In that moment of learning her own limits as a parent, though, there is a promise for each one of us: No matter how alone we feel, no matter how helpless the situation seems, God, divine Love, speaks not only to us but to our children as well.
In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper and the discoverer of Christian Science, wrote, “Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation” (p. 332). Our children may not always be in our care physically, but as the spiritual offspring of the Divine, they are never beyond the reach of their Father-Mother God’s loving care.
We can expect their “wilderness prayers” – their sincere, innocent desire to feel comforted, loved, and at peace in challenging situations – as well as ours, to be turned into fruitful and abundant possibilities. We can trust that all of us can feel and experience God’s tender care in tangible ways.
We will face challenging moments as we help our children learn to navigate the world with increasing independence – just as I did that first morning of preschool drop-off. But in those moments where we start to feel afraid and helpless, we can let our first step be to remember the experience of Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. Our Father-Mother God is hearing our prayers, and quieting our fears with the promise that She is hearing and responding to our children’s needs. We can humbly listen for divine guidance on how to proceed with wisdom and joy. It’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago, and we can live that promise every day.