To Parent Is To Suffer

Christine and I watched Anna kick and squirm on the ultrasound monitor at Dr. O’Kelley’s office.  This was the midterm checkup where they take all the crucial measurements to see how the baby is progressing.  Baby Anna will be 7 years old in May, but I can’t help thinking back to that day…

As I watched the video screen during the ultrasound, I was a nervous wreck.  Is there anything we need to be prepared for?  What will she look like? Thoughts about her physical well being led to bigger concerns.  What will be her passions, her gifts, her place in God’s story?  What will be her joys and triumphs?  What suffering will she face because of her own sins and the sins of others? So easy to begin to worry, to be afraid…I had to pray “Father, help me to trust You.  I don’t want to be fearful.  You are here and You are good.”

During this Advent season I’m reminded that as Mary was watching Jesus die on the cross she may have thought back to the days soon after He was born. Imagine the fear that must have gripped her as she heard the words of Simeon the day she presented Jesus at the temple… “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).  Imagine the uncertainty she must have felt as she heard the phrases he used to describe the life of her boy: “destined to cause the falling and rising of many”, he “will be spoken against”, and somehow because of him “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” As John Piper has said, “To be a mother is a call to suffer.”

In her poem “Mary’s Song,” Luci Shaw slips into Mary’s sandals and imagines how this new mother might have pondered the pain of her Messiah baby’s future…

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast

keep warm this small hot naked star

fallen to my arms.  (Rest…

you who have had so far to come.)

Now nearness satisfies

the body of God sweetly.  Quiet he lies

whose vigor hurled a universe.  He sleeps

whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems

no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps

to sprout a world.  Charmed by dove’s voices,

the whisper of straw, he dreams,

hearing no music from his other spheres.

Breath, mouth, ears, eyes

he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,

all years.  Older than eternity, now he

is new.  Now native to earth as I am, nailed

to my poor planet, caught

that I might be free, blind in my womb

to know my darkness ended

brought to this birth for me to be new-born,

and for him to see me mended

I must see him torn.

Mary must’ve pondered her call to suffering that day as well. The call to be the mother of the baby Messiah, the boy Messiah, and then the adolescent Messiah.  The call to follow and serve the Savior as he traveled and taught and healed and fed and prayed…as he was praised and paraded as well as when he was lied about and betrayed and falsely accused and wrongly nailed to a criminal’s cross. And then, at the foot of his cross, she faced the call to continue the ministry of her son…the Son of God…without seeing his smile, hearing his laughter, or feeling his strong, tender arms around her anymore.

And Jesus, in the middle of his own agony, knew his mother’s memories and her fears and gave her over to the care of John, “the disciple whom he loved.”  He didn’t give her over to the care of his own flesh and blood brothers, but to his faith and love brother, John (read John 19:25-27). In doing this, Jesus demonstrated that we, too, have a new family (see also Matthew 12:48-50).  In this seemingly trivial moment Jesus reminds us that when we suffer in and because of our own families, he has given us over to the care of his family, the Church whom he loves.

To be a parent is a call to suffer.  Whatever you are suffering in your family as you follow Jesus, remember that Jesus has given us each other, the disciples whom he loves.  Let’s care for one another in the midst of parental fears and tears.

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