I remember two years ago today like it was yesterday… a very painful yesterday. I was in the middle of a very long, very difficult labor, begging my husband to take me home because I did not want to do it anymore. I had decided that the child I had been waiting eagerly to meet could just stay inside forever. We could work out the details later. Then, after 31 hours, he was here, in my arms. I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I remember saying “so YOU’RE the one who’s been kicking me for so long!” And in that moment, my whole life changed. I changed. Everything changed. I felt so much joy, a love I could never have imagined, and a small, far away, but very distinct ache. An ache that knew, even if I didn’t, that this precious baby I would happily give my life for wasn’t mine. Yes, he was my son, but he wasn’t MINE.
The ache came to the forefront one week later at his baptism. I heard it clearly as the priest drew the sign of the cross in oil on his forehead, it was the voice of the Lord telling me that my child – all of our children – were His. We didn’t have children because they were cute (though they are) or because we wanted to avoid the dreaded nursing home or because we had reached our lifetime quota for sleep and no longer need any… ever again. We had children to pass on our faith, to allow God to make our love fruitful. In short, we had children because God gave them to us. But they were never ours. They are His. It’s a difficult vocation, motherhood. Your heart, much like that of the Grinch, grows exponentially to make room for the love you have for your children. And rightly so, as there aren’t enough descriptive words in the English language to appropriately illustrate a mother’s love for her child. But all the while your heart is growing, so too is your realization that God is going to ask great things of them. Sometimes difficult things. Sometimes wonderful things. And your job is not to stand in the way, like the mama bear instinct might want to do, but to allow God to love your child, trusting that He knows him and loves him even more than you do.
For this reason, it was all the more appropriate that the majority of my labor took place on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord. The day when Mary knew, when the Lord revealed to her, the incredible cross her tiny baby would carry, and the swords that would pierce her heart at the sight of it. I remember meditating on that image during my contractions, and then again at his baptism, knowing that God gave us Mary to be an example of perfect motherhood. Hers is the lap that is forever available to us, the arms that love to hold us, but the heart that will never keep us from doing the will of the Father – no matter how painful a mission He might ask us to undertake. This is the love we are called to – one that does not love for itself, but for Him and for Him alone. We are called to show a love that has no equal, one without limitations, one that teaches them about the love of their Father in Heaven, and one that lets them go when He calls.
On this feast day, I pray to Mary for the strength to love as she does. I pray for all mothers to know such an incredible love for their children as she has for all of hers, and I pray for sleep… just because I really miss it sometimes. Thank you, Mary, for the example you show us. Thank you for the wisdom, the guidance, the selflessness, and the faith you display constantly. And please, please, help us get a little sleep.