This time of year gets me thinking about Mary. I wonder what it was like back then; pregnancy and childbirth in times where there were no cars or hospitals. She was most probably contracting while riding around town late at night on a donkey. I can’t imagine a labor like that!
Then, after working and pushing and all that which birth entails, her child came forth and she held His warm, soft body next to hers. Those of us who know the sensation of the first few moments have a little glimpse into her experience. There she was in the middle of a barn holding her baby. I’m certain the rest of the world disappeared from her thoughts as she held Him and looked at Him.
Besides getting over any birth trauma a woman may experience, and of course a dose of sleep deprivation, early parenting is marvelous. There is a mountaintop experience of emotion in the bringing forth of a new human being. I always want the whole rest of the world to go away as I enjoy the sacredness of something new, something eternal, entering the earth.
But time marches on, and the world keeps right on turning. The baby grows and changes. Then we have diapers and colic and teething and tantrums and puberty and on and on and on. Our own 15 children have marched on through their childhoods with a vengeance, and we have melted with warmth at their innocent expressions of love, clapped and celebrated at each milestone, and laughed and laughed at all of their little antics and misunderstandings of the world.
We have also sighed as we scrubbed crayon off the wall, or called out in pain as we stepped on Lego’s strewn all over the floor. There were nights where we lay listening to shallow breathing as a tiny child struggled for air, nights spent pacing the floor with a baby who fussed with fever, and nights where we sat up worrying as a young person failed to come home on time. There has been crying as we felt the searing pain of a child who took out their own fears and frustrations of life on us, their parents.
Yes, parenting is filled with pleasures that money cannot buy, but it is also filled with opportunities to love when loving means pain.
Whenever I myself become “astonished” with the changes in the actions of my children, I am reminded of Mary and Joseph as Jesus was changing into a man.
Mary knew this. She knew it the first time they found Jesus missing on their way out of Jerusalem. The Lord of the universe was beginning to take His place as a Man who was separate from His earthly parents; He was beginning to find His role in the greater scheme of things and Mary, the woman who held Him to her breast at the dawn of His earthly experience, was not even in His mind as He discussed with the priests in the temple.
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?”But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.
I am also reminded of God, as He portrayed Himself as the Father in the parable of the prodigal son.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
God understands what it means to parent until it hurts.
He breathed life into the first man, enjoyed walking with Adam in the cool of the evening, and then had to expel him and leave him to make his own choices after the fall.
Every day God causes the sun to rise in splendor, painting the sky like the Artist He is, on an ungrateful and disloyal population. He gives us eyes to see, and ears to hear the songs of the birds. He puts goodwill in the hearts of men so that we have eggs and bread and warm coats and cars that bring us to jobs. He blesses us whether we acknowledge Him or not, and then He watches and waits in hopes that we will turn our gaze from our own belly-buttons and look on His wonderful face.
Then He rejoices. He doesn’t even hold our past misconduct against us; He just hugs us and kisses us.
This is the heart of God; to have intimate fellowship with the crown of His creation.
This is the true message of Christmas, but we have altered it, maybe distorted it a little so that it is like a gouging elbow at the rib of our pain. It is supposed to be a time when loved ones get together, at least that’s what the songs say. But sometimes Christmas is not full of sweetness and light and laughter. Sometimes it is a reminder of separation.
There is a great misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission on earth. We have been told it was to bring us all together, to bring peace among men. This is not true. The peace we sing about is a peace between God and man, a declaration that the war between heaven and earth was over. It did not mean peace among men:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
That’s parenting, too. Parents sometimes have to expel, they have to hold children at arm’s length, all the time watching and waiting and praying. Sometimes the watching isn’t over until we all pass over into eternity.
This has the potential of turning loving parents into cranky, bitter people. But not for those of us who understand eternity. I have had more than my share of all of the aspects of raising children, and yet my heart is soft and I smile more than I frown.
How is this possible? Because my eyes are turned upward. My mission as a mother has always been unto the Lord. I never considered even one of my children to be my own; they have been loaned to me, an orchard of fruit trees for me to husband, a cellar of fine wines for me to steward. I watched and cared and watered, but the Master is the Owner. He sees my work, He knows about my labors. Ultimately, it will be His words that will be my reward:
He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit, And he who cares for his master will be honored.