“God is always watching over you,” my Sunday School teachers told me. This is one of the very first things we learn about faith, along with “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” These are basic, simple truths of the Christian faith, and they are not just for children. When I visit with the elderly and the ill and the dying, it is these basic truths that I most often return to, reading the familiar verses and praying the old, familiar prayers.
I was visiting an elderly man who was in the hospital with a life-threatening illness. This was, as you might expect, causing him some anxiety. I encouraged him to return again to that old childhood bedtime prayer which would now have a very specific meaning for him: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” And he said, “I do pray that prayer every night. I have since I was a child. I never felt like I out-grew my need of it.”
These basic truths are not, however, as simple as they first seem. How does God watch over us, and how about those times when it seems he is not watching, or not caring at all? These are big questions, which require very long responses, and I am not going to attempt to give a full explanation here. But the following story, while not giving the whole answer, does give a little insight into God’s ways with us. The story if from the book Let Me Tell You a Story by Tony Campolo.
As a boy growing up in the city, it was somewhat dangerous for me to walk to school all by myself. So my mother paid Harriet, a neighborhood girl a few years older than I, to be responsible for getting me to and from school each day. Harriet was paid five cents a day for this service.
As I grew older I became very conscious of what I believed was an enormous amount of money going into Harriet’s hands. So I went to my mother and told her that there was no need for her to pay Harriet any longer, that she should give me the nickel each day, and I would walk myself to school. I assured her that I could do it with no problem at all. I kept on begging and begging until my mother gave in and said, “Okay! If you’re very careful, I’ll give you the nickel a day, and you can put the money in the bank and save it to buy Christmas presents for your sisters.”That seemed like a good idea. So from that time on I walked myself to school, collected the money, and did not allow the Campolo wealth to leave the household.Years later, when my mother had passed on, I was at a family get-together with my sisters and I reminded them of my independent spirit, even when I was a child. I reminded them of how I walked myself to school, and how needed no one’s help in getting there and back each day, and how that translated into good presents for them at Christmas time.My sisters laughed at me and one of them said, “Did you think that you went to school alone and came home alone? Every day when you left the house Mom followed you. And when you came out of school at the end of the day, she was there. She always made sure that you didn’t notice her, but she watched over your coming and going, just to make sure you were safe and that nobody hurt you. Didn’t it ever occur to you that there was something strange about the fact that when you knocked on the door she didn’t answer right away, and that it always took a minute or so before she opened the door of the house to let you in? That’s because she would follow you home then sneak in the back door. When she opened the front door and let you in, you were always left with the impression that you had been on your own, when in reality she had been watching over you all the time.”And so it is with God!