Some years ago, hanging near my computer in the little cottage where I did most of my writing was a lovely ceramic carving of the Prayer of Jabez, a gift from one of my sons many Christmases ago A small children’s devotional refers to the short, but powerful, prayer found in the Hebrew Scriptures as “the little ancient prayer about living big for God.”
The prayer reads: “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil that I would not cause pain.' So God granted him what he requested” ( 1Chronicles 4:10).
What still intrigues me most about the prayer is not its success in enlarging Jabez’s territory but, rather, Jabez’s request of God to keep him from evil so HE would not cause pain. For me, his request has been the focus of many times of reflection on my own life and shortcomings.
Soon after receiving the plaque, when I was dropping one of my sons off at school, I witnessed something that made me very sad and reminded me that evil comes to us in little, unsuspected ways, not always in what we do but very often in what we fail to do – most often when we fail to love.
In the car behind me a mom and her daughter had stopped in front of the school, as well. The youngster, a girl of about 12, leaned over to give her mom a kiss on the cheek, but the mom turned her head away.
The look on the child’s face was heartbreaking and it became obvious, as I watched their exchange for the next few minutes, that the child had done something to anger the mom.
I actually felt my throat tighten and tears form as I watched the daughter get out of the car and walk to the school building with her head hung low. And I wondered if I had ever done the same thing to any of my sons in a moment of anger or disappointment.
I wanted to run to her and give her a hug and tell her that her mom still loved her.
I wanted to explain how fear is usually at the root of anger and, for parents, the world is full of reasons to harbor fears for our children.
I wanted to make it all better, because that’s what moms are supposed to do, and it’s a hard truth for us to swallow when we can’t.
In that brief gesture of a mom turning her head away, a moment that child will most likely remember for the rest of her life, an evil triumphed over love.
But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
You see, as a parent, as a friend, as a child, and as a spouse, I have discovered another powerful little prayer that can keep us from evil: “Forgive me.”