Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
These lines always seemed particularly beautiful to me, even as a child. They are so intimate, so feminine. When I became a mother myself they became even more powerful because they reveal the heart of a mother, pondering the mystery of her child, her heart welling with love. Of course, when the Blessed Mother considered her child she was also contemplating her God. Yet, I think every mother learns new things about the Father’s relationship to his children through her relationship to her own. They are unique and unrepeatable gifts from Him, made in His image. Jesus was adored first as an infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And, He promised that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these. So, here are a few things I have learned about God’s love as I ponder my children.
The Parable of the Self-Sufficient Child
Once there were two brothers. The first went to his mother with everything. He ran to her when he was hurt, he asked her for help when he could not do something, he told her his hopes, and he asked her every question that came to his mind. He was happiest when they were together. The mother loved this child and was glad to be needed. The son showed his love by making his mother rest while he cleaned when she seemed very tired. They understood each other always. The second son was self-sufficient. One of his earliest sentences was “Leave Gus Gus alone” and he would often politely ask his mother to “please go away”. This independence was mostly a good thing. He would lie for hours in a quiet place with a cat, whispering to it. He could be very brave in the face of pain and illness. He could lead other children. But sometimes his willfullness led him into trouble. When he built a tower and it fell he would weep bitter tears of frustration but if his mother tried to help him he would only become more upset. When he was very ill her would fight away any comfort, insisting that there was nothing wrong. His mother loved this strong son. She obliged him when he asked her to “please go away”, but from a distance she wished he would reach out to her more. Every night, when she tucked in the two children, the mother blessed them the same way and left them to sleep. And many nights, in the wee hours, the younger son, who had spent all his day wanting to be alone, would creep into her room and climb into bed. She would ask him if he had had a bad dream and he would say “I don’t want to talk about it”. And she would wrap her arms around him, joyful for a chance to hug him, and they would sleep. He told her he came to her room at night because “you are never asleep”, and she didn’t enlighten him. Surely, if a mother is always ready to welcome us into her arms no matter how we have pushed her away, our Father, who truly never sleeps, is always waiting to embrace us when we finally turn to him even if we have insisted we can do without Him.
The Parable of the Favourite Child
Once there was a woman who bore a son. She loved him dearly from the moment she knew him. She treasured up every new milestone in his life as if her was the first child to ever learn to walk, the first child to eat with a spoon. She was certain the way he said “duck duck duck” was uniquely brilliant. When the boy was less than a year old the mother discovered she would soon have another child. She wondered how she could ever love anyone as much as her firstborn child. Yet the second child arrived and soon a third and a fourth. Everyday the mother would look at her child and think “this is my favourite person in all the world. No one has ever been so special.” But the strange thing was, the child was a different one every time. For she soon realized that she loved each child differently, distinctly and absolutely. No child smiled exactly like her youngest daughter. No child walked lightly on tiptoe like a tiny ballerina as her older daughter did. No child was as inventive and witty as her second son. No child as gentle and studious as her first. Surely if our mothers, who loved us as we grew inside them, love us each uniquely and entirely, our Father, who knew us before He formed us in the womb, loves us each individually and utterly. Surely if a mother’s love is not diminished or drained but grows to encompass as many children as she has, the love of the Father, who is love, is infinite.
The Parable of the Dwindling Punishment
Once there was a child who rarely misbehaved, but when he did he could not bring himself to apologize. Often it seemed as if he himself was saddened that he could not overcome his own stubborness. He would cry, not only that he was punished but that he could not utter the words I’m sorry. Once he was sent to his room and remained there for three hours because he would not say he was sorry. As the hours went by his parents, who would come to visit him every five minutes, devised more and more ways to offer him an opportunity to reconcile with them. Would he say sorry? “No” would he say please? “No.” Would he just consent to say Mama? “No.” Finally his father jokingly suggested that he simply say no on demand. The little boy pursed his lips and shook his head silently. Finally the little boy fell asleep. His parents were stymied by his stubborness and decided that if he woke up cheerful and polite they would consider his punishment over. From then on they would continue to be firm with the child, insisting that when he was naughty he must make amends, but they took every opportunity to invent consequences the boy could not help but observe. Surely if our parents punish us regretfully only because they must for our good, and seek above all things to be reconciled with us, giving us every opportunity to make peace, then our Father, who sent his Son to reconcile us through his passion and death, is always eagerly awaiting any excuse to forgive our sins if we but grant him the smallest opening for His grace.
The Parable of the Pew Gymnast
Once there was a little girl who loved to balance in church. She would totter along the pew, leap over to the kneeler, and walk precariously along it. Sometimes she would attempt to stand on the book rack too. Occasionally she believed she could even stand on the back of the pew ahead. In all of this she believed she was invincible. If anyone tried to help she would flail angrily to shoe them away. These gestures were so violent that her parents realized she was in more danger from her displays of independence than from her gymnastic routine. So they would surreptitiously hover just out of her eye-line, arms outstretched, waiting to catch her in the inevitable fall. And, when she began her tumble her confident little face would crumble into fear but those unseen arms, rejected so often, were always there, ready to scoop her up into a hug when she realized she needed them.