Song For Josiah
Oh my son, you were born in a world that hates you,
And I swear I will never forsake you.
But there was a father centuries ago,
Who watched his beloved son die. Oh, die.
Oh my son, I am weak and I'm trembling,
For the Lord I am always remembering.
Oh what a strong shepherd holds you in His arms.
He'll break you and make you His own.
And then take you home.
Well if I could I would protect you from what you will see.
This world will promise love and beauty, but it lied to me.
And I will show you, if you will listen.
And I will promise, to listen too.
Oh yes, there are some who love the lies, they will kill you if they can.
Though you speak the truth in love, they will hate you like the man,
Jesus. although he was God, he allowed himself broken for you.
Well if I could I would protect you from what you will see.
The world might seem so alive, but it's dead to me.
And I will teach you, if you will hear me.
And I will promise, to hear you too. Yes I do.
Oh my son, I am only your brother.
For a sister, God gave me your mother.
But just like a mother, so long ago, had to watch her beloved son die,
Oh son, we will try, to let you go.
First of all, sweet daughters of Keith, if you’re by some weird chance reading this, I want you to know that I write this in honor of your dear father and his tender heart towards you, so evident in these lyrics. I, too, have lost a father, and I know the deep grief it can cause in a child’s heart. You can carry with you the assurance and peace that you will see your father crowned with glory in eternity if you share his faith as surely as you do his genes.
That said: This song makes me cry in all the best ways. There is something almost magical to me when I see good parenting in action. No, I never met Keith Green or his children or wife, but his heart is so evident in this (and his biography, penned by his wife) that I feel like I can safely say that Keith was a loving father.
Maybe it’s that my own parents struggled so, that I spent so little time with my father and didn’t appreciate his parenting until after he was gone. But when I see parents who love their children and discipline (not necessarily punish, but disciplining them, shaping them into the men and women they were created to be), it’s amazing and beautiful to me.
I have a coworker with a teenaged daughter who comes in from time to time… and I invariably hear her parenting this daughter. I know that her daughter doesn’t love it, and won’t appreciate it yet, but it’s so beautiful that I can’t not love my coworker more for it.
I’ve seen my uncle and my brother in law with their children, both of whom are close to me in age (to be fair, I’ve watched others, but since they were older enough for me to view them as belonging to my mother’s generation more than mine, I’m afraid that their prowess as parents was lost on my lack of appreciation for parenting at the time). I am so touched and blessed by their love and devotion for their children, the way they protect them and set boundaries, but are still able to play with and enjoy them.
Watching my family with my niece and nephew over Easter weekend, when we all came together for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, was more of this magic. I got to see more of my niece; she was there before her brother, and stayed after he left, and John and I took her home that night. Watching my grandfather sweet-talk her into putting her shoes on (she knew that shoes meant she was going home, and she wanted to stay and play, but it was getting late and she needed to get home so she could go to bed), and knowing he’d done the same with me 25 years ago when I was her size was almost enough to make me cry (and it is enough now). Watching my uncles play with her out front… one carrying her, the other hiding and surprising her, and both of them playing it all up with her… knowing they’d almost certainly done the same with their children, knowing that they’d played with me when I was wee, knowing that this was what healthy interaction looks like, it was amazing.
I watch my friends with their children; instructing them in proper manners (don’t interrupt, say please and thank you) even as we may play together (we were all shooting paper wads at each other Sunday at lunch… if you were in the Owasso RibCrib and didn’t appreciate our play, I’m sorry. Quit being a grump.) When I was a teenager, I saw a friend, an adult I considered a sort of mentor, scoop her child up as he was being disobedient and disrespectful. In one fell swoop, she scooped him up as he was running past (after he’d been told not to run, after he’d been told he was being disobedient), pulled him into her lap, gave him a swat on the bottom and then rocked him close and comforted and instructed him, loving him.
You may take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt because I have no children of my own; all my experience is with my sisters and watching others and former wishing. I don’t mind. I still think what I’m going to say is true.
Loving your child isn’t about giving into their every whim and wish. It’s not about letting them dictate what happens in their world. It’s not about protecting them from everything that could go wrong in life. Let’s face it; you can’t protect them from everything (and certainly you can’t if you’re indulging their every whim!) and still have strong resilient children. You just can’t protect them from everything. I know I tried for my sisters, and couldn’t. And no, that’s not the same, but how many of you have seen your children hurting in a way that you couldn’t protect them from? How many of you have taught your precious one to ride a bike and had to let go, knowing they’d fall and hurt themselves eventually, and let go anyway? Good parents know when to set limits for their children, to protect them and preserve their innocence and health. They risk upsetting their children to do what’s best for them. They know not to panic when he falls down and bumps his head, to stay calm and encourage him to get up and keep trying. It teaches him that every scrape isn’t a crisis. And yet, if there’s something really wrong, they know how to keep him calm and get him what he needs to be healthy.
They don’t have a manual. Their children didn’t come with a book on how to raise them. They take life as it comes, and they follow the advice and examples of those who went before them. They learn from their mistakes and go forward. And they revel in the magic of a child’s innocence and discovery. They revel in the magic of a child.
Like I said, maybe it was my upbringing that makes this all seem so magical to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t get to be a mommy myself. But there is nothing in all the world like watching parents love their children.
And now I come back to the song. Listen to Keith’s heart as he pours it out for his son. Listen to him instructing his son in his faith. Keith knows that no matter how much he wants to protect his child from the difficulties of life, of the pain we all feel, of the difficulty Christians face living in a fallen world, he cannot. Part of the process of growing up, of coming to a saving faith, is enduring the bumps and bruises, and yes, even the breaks of life. He knows that his children (for indeed, while this song is titled “Song for Josiah”, it is surely true for all of Keith’s children) will have to stumble and struggle their way through life to be strong and mature. He knows that his faith can’t be theirs; that they must build their own. And he takes an example and applies it to his own child… the example of how God the Father had to let His Son go, had to release Him to the world with all the physical discomforts and pains. Surely Jesus got bruises. Surely he caught colds. Surely there were times when Mary and Joseph fretted over their feverish firstborn. And we know she was there when Christ was dying on the cross.
Keith knows that his son is, in many ways, no different that the Son of God… and by that, I don’t mean that he sees his child as the divine Son of God, but that if even Christ had to grow up in this fallen world, then so too, will his son. That he can’t count on his son being spared anything; Christ wasn’t. He knows, even as he builds character and faith into his sweet child, that God will break his young heart and shape him as He sees fit. Keith is aware that the work he begins, His Father in heaven will be finishing, and it will not be easy.
Listen, too, to his plea for his child to learn from his example, instead of learning the hard way. We all seem to sort of bash our way through life, careening from one day to the next, stumbling, stopping and restarting, repeating the mistakes that every child has made in history. We all do the same thing the same way 10,000 times, and we all expect different results than we and everyone else has ever gotten… and its not until we learn that it doesn’t work that way that we even allow ourselves to think of doing things differently. Listen to Keith try to tell his son how to navigate the minefield of life. Listen to his promise to teach his son, if only his son will listen and heed his words. Listen to the promise to listen to his son. Listen to the vulnerability in his voice. Listen as he tells his son that he can’t protect him from life. Listen as he tells him that he is only human.
And then listen to the promise he makes, assuring his son of the goodness of God. “What a strong shepherd holds you in His arms.” And he promises him that God will shape him and make him, but He will also take him as His own. “He’ll break you and make you His own, and then He’ll take you home.”
Oh, Beloved, hear what I say to you now. Your parents love(d) you. And where they failed you, God will not. God cannot. He is the perfect Father. He will do what good parents do, only better. He will give you limits to protect you, rules to shape you, discipline to make you better people. And He delights in you. That you exist is a joy to Him. Do you hear me? Your existence… not anything you’ve ever done, nothing you’ll ever do, nothing you are, nothing you aren’t… just that you ARE at all, is a delight to God the Father. Life won’t be some perfect cakewalk; it hasn’t ever been for anyone, and surely if the Son of God suffered, so too will you. But He holds you. He’s waiting, arms outstretched for you. Like the prodigal son returning home, He will run to you. Like the mother who disciplined her son and loved him all at once, He will discipline you in love. Like my uncles, my grandparents, like my brother in law and friends, He will protect you from what would destroy you, even as he encourages you to stand up again after you fell down. He loves you.
Keith and his son and oldest daughter went home to be with Jesus in 1982. Josiah was never old enough to take his father’s advice, and his sisters grew up with this song as theirs. My father went home to be with Jesus in 1995, 13 years ago, 13 years after Keith. And yet I feel I can say with certainty that both men would say the same things today that Keith said then.
Hear the parent’s heart in Keith’s song. How much more your Father, who is in heaven, loves you. Good parenting is miraculous. Won’t you come back to the Source of the miracle?