Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He loves also the bow that is stable.
These beautiful words of poetry, words of truth – were written by Kahlil Gibran. They are much loved by my mother who came across them when learning what it is to be a parent.
And she has shared them with us her children in one way or another, and each of us – now parents ourselves have pondered them as we try and make our way bringing up our children.
The words remind us that though children might be born of their parents, they are not to be treated as a possession but to be let go for ‘Your children are not your children’.
Of course this letting go isn’t always easy, we know both the fragility of our children and also how cruel the world can sometimes be. Every parent wants in some sense to protect their child, wants them to be ok, safe and secure.
This sense of protecting our children came to mind when pondering the Gospel for this week. Jesus has called together his friends. He has loved them but knows he is to leave them. We glimpse in this passage his inner thoughts and longings.
He has done his best to ‘protect them’ and prays they might continue to be ‘protected…from the evil one’ and from the world. I want to return to what this protection might look like a bit later on.
But for now, let us stay with how Jesus might have felt at this time. Perhaps he wondered what was going to happen to his friends? Wondered whether they would be ok? Whether he had done enough? Given them what they needed?
These wonderings and words of prayer are echoed by the parent who says farewell to their beloved child, whether it be leaving them at nursery, or making their own way to school for the first time, or leaving home for university or to live with friends, or a partner.
The parent hopes and prays that they have done enough to help their children make the right choices, that they will live a fulfilling and contented life mindful that it is their life for ‘though they are with you…they belong not to you.’ They are ‘living arrows…sent forth.’
Jesus had loved his friends but knew that he was to leave them, and he knew too that if his love was to grow in them, he would need to let them go so that they might grow into a new and deeper relationship with him.
It’s a bit like what happens to a child growing into an adult relationship with their parent. For though a child is known intimately and shaped by that parent, the parent must in some sense let go and hope that a new and deeper relationship will emerge.
So, when Jesus prays in verse seventeen ‘Sanctify them in the truth’ he is I think praying that they will be made holy by the truth of who he is and who they can become through him.
Yet though that was his prayer he couldn’t be sure, there were no certainties for they were free to choose. All he could so was show them the way and hope.
Rather like a parent who has done their best to shape the life entrusted to them, though they might long to protect their children they have to let go and hope.
And in the life of a priest, and in the parishes in which we serve we know something of this. We baptise children, marry couples, bury the dead and hope.
Hope that those who come to us have glimpsed something of the Jesus who calls us friends, who died and rose for us and who longs for us to sanctified in the truth of who he is, and why it matters.
But, to return to that question of what kind of protection Jesus prays for. Well, it wasn’t some kind of immunity to the pains and tragedies of life, more a prayer that they would grow into a deep abiding sense that whatever was before them they would know, in and through their life with him that God was with them, always.
That he was for them, as he is for us ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ And that this truth would protect and strengthen their hearts and minds amidst the storms of life, root and ground who they were and who they were becoming.
And his prayer for them is I think his prayer for us, that we too might be sanctified, made holy as we meet him here, love and serve him in our lives and so are shaped as his people.
So that whatever is before us, good or bad we hold onto the truth that the one who has walked with us through these days of Easter, walks with us always. For Christ is Risen! He is risen Indeed! Alleluia!