Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2: 41-49 NIV
Have you ever been separated from your child? It’s the most frightening and awful feeling, isn’t it?
I lost two of my three children at the aquarium when they were small. I was in line pushing my youngest in the stroller and my three and four-year-old were standing beside me. As I showed my annual pass to the ticket-collector I turned and they were gone. People urged me to move but fear immobilized me. Where were they? Had someone taken them when I was not paying attention? Oh Jesus, help!
A man—or perhaps an angel—came up to me and laid a hand on my arm. “Can I help you?” he said.
I told him I couldn’t find my two children and he began giving directions to people around us. People I didn’t even know called their names throughout the lobby and gift shop. Across a sea of shoppers in the gift store I saw the heads of my children pop up at the sound of their names. I can’t tell you how relieved I was, how grateful, how angry. The rest of the day I made them keep one hand on the stroller at all times and I didn’t take my eyes off them.
If you were to ask my children about the event, they would tell you I’d given them permission to wait in the gift store while I waited in line. But I have no such recollection.
This story of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem reminds me of that time and my heart goes out to Mary and Joseph. I can relate to their fear and to their reproof. Why have you treated us like this?
But Jesus was twelve at the time—a man by Jewish standards— and not an ordinary teenager. He was born for a purpose. Had his parents forgotten he was conceived by the Holy Spirit? Didn’t they remember the star, the magi, the shepherds, the angels, the dreams? Did twelve years and their successive children cause them to forget he was the Messiah?
Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
There have been countless times while parenting my children I’ve had to remember they are not mine to control. They are each a gift from God. And although they are not going to save the world, God has a purpose for each of them.
Though they are grown and living out of my home, I pray everyday for God to guide them, to protect them, and to use them for his glory. I confess my fear for them. I trust God’s love for them is greater than my own.
When paths diverge, we must trust God with our children.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14 NIV (Jesus speaking)