This past week I was sitting in my rocking chair by the fireplace and typing away on my laptop. My daughter Jessica came up to me, “I’m bored, Mom. I want to help you.” “Well,” I told her, “I’m writing an article about motherhood for Mother’s Day. Would you like to help me?” She quickly grabbed pen and paper and began to write. Here is her reflection on motherhood:
“For Mother’s Day we usually bring you breakfast in bed, but that isn’t what Mother’s Day is all about. It’s about celebrating what mothers do. Your vocation as mothers is keeping children in touch with God. That’s what Mary did. When they went to the Temple in Jerusalem, when they figured out Jesus was missing. She worried so much. But when she saw what was happening in the Temple, she saw Jesus sitting in the Temple listening to the teachers, listening and asking questions. She thought, he has a special gift! I sometimes wonder what he was asking. She explains how to have a good relationship with children. She understood him well. She had no idea what would happen next, but she knew God knew and God had planned a path for Jesus. She tried to understand, though no one can know everything. But she tried to understand her son.”
Personally, I hadn’t thought much about the finding of Jesus in the Temple as a model for parenthood. It seemed to me more like an episode in the Bible that showcases the humanness of Jesus’ parents— to lose your child is about the most dramatic way you can fail as a parent or caregiver. The basic requirement of motherhood is to at least know where your children are. My recurring parenting nightmare is that I’ve forgotten one of my three children somewhere: at the church, at their schools, at home, at the store . . . Surprisingly, the only time I have lost a child was at a playground and I didn’t even know she was lost until she came up behind me sobbing. She’s currently writing a story about it for her 2nd grade class. It will be shared on Author’s Day for all the 2nd grade parents to hear—I can’t wait.
How embarrassing and terrifying to find you’ve lost your child in a big city and then how maddening to find him 3 days later, sitting in the Temple like nothing had happened. Parents of teenagers can add their own inflection to Mary’s question, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48b). Jesus responds (without the apologetic groveling any parent might have expected), “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) The Gospel continues, “but they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50). The account concludes, “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
As mothers, there is so much we can hold in our hearts—our children’s triumphs and defeats, their joys and sorrows, their loves, and their bitterness, but maybe the hardest thing to hold within our hearts is our children’s uncertainty—the important work that we all must do of discovering who we are and who God calls us to be. This is not work to be taken lightly, and it is not work that comes easily. Sometimes it is cut tragically short or changed forever by violence or accident, disease, mental illness, or addiction.
Jessica reminds me that Mary did not know what God’s plan was for her son. She knew he was a precious gift, and yet he is a gift that is hers and profoundly not hers at the same time. God’s plans for this child, for all children, go far beyond the narrow dreams of their parents. And God’s plan for Jesus led both him and his mother to Calvary and death on a Cross in the company of criminals. In the Opening Prayer of the 5th Sunday of Easter, there is a line which caused me as a mother, woman, and disciple of Jesus, to catch my breath: “Almighty and ever-living God, constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us.” As Christians is this really our prayer—to experience the Passion, death and Resurrection in our lives constantly?
I would like my children to grow old, have satisfying and useful careers, embrace a vocation of marriage, single or consecrated life. I would like them to know love all the days of their lives and (if I’m being really honest) to always live within a few miles of me. Despite the good will behind all of my noble dreams for my children, the most courageous, the most loving thing I can do as a mother at times, is to sit back and hold all of the fragmented pieces of their lives, all of the things that are incomprehensible to me, in my heart. To ponder them, even when I am greatly troubled. To trust in the new life promised beyond the shadow of the cross.