As a parent of four children, I am grateful for every bit of parenting advice that the Bible gives. One of my favorites is Psalm 127, tucked in with the other Psalms of Ascent. Solomon writes:

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:4–5)

For years I missed the importance of the imagery here. But Solomon is getting at a very important principle with the idea of children as arrows: God gives us our kids so that we can prepare them for his mission.

After all, what is the purpose of an arrow? An arrow is designed to be shot! As missionary Jim Elliot wrote to his parents, “Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were . . . arrows. What are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly—all of them, straight at the Enemy’s hosts.”

As parents, we must not only ask, “How should I raise these children?” but also, “Why did God give me these kids?” The purpose is to let them go, and that must undergird all we do in parenting.

Here in the U.S., we live in a safety-obsessed culture. And, of course, some of that is beneficial: my kids wear helmets while they ride their bikes; when our kids were young, they rode in state-approved car seats, etc. Rules and restrictions to keep our children safe are valuable (especially when many parents ignore basic safety guidelines).

But many of us take the legitimate desire for our kids’ safety and magnify it into a dominating idol. The life of an arrow is not a safe one. As Reggie Joiner writes in Parenting Beyond Your Capacity,

“We’re fine if our children never climb a mountain as long as it guarantees they never get hurt. But what if your children were made for the mountains? . . . The ultimate mission of the family is not to protect your children from all harm but to mobilize them for the mission of God. . . . It is possible to hold on to our kids so tightly that we forget the ultimate goal of parenting is to let go.”

When God designs a child to be shot out like an arrow—and instead we treat that child like a piece of furniture that we plan to keep in the house—we not only stunt their development, we also discourage them from finding God altogether. In protecting them from all of life’s challenges, we show them a picture of our faith that is dismally boring. And where your depiction of faith is boring, they will drift toward more interesting things.

Preparing our children as arrows and sending them out applies in a number of contexts, but one that lies close to my heart is the cause of international missions. I know of so, so many college students who sense a genuine call to the mission field, but their parents either forbid it or make it incredibly difficult for them. They are looking to keep their arrows safely in the quiver—unharmed, but ultimately useless.

Is our hold on our children loose enough that we would send them out wherever God calls them? God gave us our children for the Great Commission, and if we want to make an international impact, many of the missionaries we plan to send out are in our nurseries right now. Will we release them?