A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



It's late at night -- or early in the morning, depending on how you prefer to think of the first moments after midnight. Personally, I prefer to think of them from a prone position in my bed, with my eyes closed and the covers tucked up under my chin.

But sleep has not come easily these past few days. Instead, I find myself wandering around the house in the early morning hours, peeking in on my children, making my parental rounds. Occasionally I kneel at a bedside to pull up covers, to gently stroke straggled hair away from closed eyelids, to kiss a chubby cheek, to pray.

Mostly, I pray.

Which isn't a new thing with me, by any means. Ever since I became a parent a couple of decades and five children ago, I've been praying for my children. My prayers became especially intense when our eldest, AmyJo, was about 3. I was assigned by the newspaper for which I was working to cover the murder of a 3-year-old girl who had been kidnapped from her home, which happened to be about 15 miles away from where we were living at the time. No matter how hard I tried to be objective and dispassionate as I went through the motions of the work I had been trained to do, I couldn't help being overwhelmed by the harshest of all realities for any parent: that no matter how hard you try to protect your children and no matter how carefully you monitor their activities, there are always going to be times when they are incredibly vulnerable.

And so, like other parents, I pray -- for my children, and for the world in which they are growing up. While most parents understand that life will deal its share of hard knocks to our kids, and that some of those knocks will actually help to shape them in a positive way, none of us wants to see our children suffer. So when horrifying events unfold in the world around us such as last week's tragedy in Colorado, we find ourselves hurting -- for the children, for their parents and for ourselves. We mourn the senseless loss of life. We mourn the pain felt by families who wait and wonder with empty arms and broken hearts. And we mourn the loss of innocence and the decline of a national feeling of safety, security, comfort and peace.

Instinctively, we look for ways to ease our pain through action. We rail against the "animals" who perpetrate "evil." We call upon the police to spare no expense in finding and punishing all who may be guilty. We increase security and exercise more caution, at least for a while, and we do everything we can to feel more safe. But deep down inside we ache with the gnawing certainty that when it comes right down to it, there is only so much that we can do. The rest is left to God.

And so we pray. Sobered by reminders of reality, we ask God to make up the difference between what we can do and what we can't control. Then we cling -- ferociously -- to our families. We tell them how much we love them. We cherish each moment that we share and then we send them out each day to face the world and all of its wonderful, terrible possibilities. When they come home at the end of the day -- sometimes triumphant, sometimes scarred -- we embrace them. We wipe away their tears. We correct them and discipline them and love them. And we thank God for the privilege.

At least, we should.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to finish my rounds. There's a teenage boy sleeping downstairs who, whether he knows it or not, needs a kiss on the cheek.

And a prayer.

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--- (c) Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and