On Tuesday, my son Liam had an allergic reaction to a varicella vaccine. In the span of time it took me to recognize that he was having a reaction, dig my phone and the Epi-Pen out of my purse, uncap the Epi-Pen and call the doctor’s office we had just left, his face had swollen until he was nearly unrecognizable and his right eye and ear were fiery red.
It continued to swell and he continued to become more and more agitated as we rushed to the ER and were whisked back to the pediatric unit. His silent, uncomfortable distress turned into ringing wails when the ER nurses swooped him out of my arms and began hastily strapping him to a papoose board and prepping him for an IV. I stood by, helpless, babbling incoherently to my son what I hoped were words of comfort but what I now suspect sounded more like panicked ramblings. The last time Liam had an allergic reaction his throat swelled up and he went into anaphylactic shock. It’s no exaggeration to say that at that moment, I thought my son’s life was on the line. It might have been. It was extremely difficult for me, his mother, to stand by and let other people take his life into their hands, even though they were trying to help him, even though they knew how to help and I did not.
The next morning I read Rebecca Frech’s article on Creative Minority Report as my son ran around the living room, a little delirious from exhaustion, Benadryl and steroids but otherwise none the worse for wear. Rebecca talked about how her understanding of the Passion had changed since becoming a mother, how she no longer saw it solely as the triumph of Christ but also now saw it as the time when Mary lost her baby. I’ve had similar thoughts since becoming a mother. The Passion has come to mean more to me seeing it through the eyes of our Mother, with whom I feel a kinship, than it ever did trying to see it through the eyes of Christ, who remains impossibly foreign to me. Christ was God, after all, and sinless and male, none of which are things I can identify with. But Mary. Mary was sinless, true, but she was human, and she was a mother, and she was young and probably frightened for her son. Those things I can understand.
But on Wednesday morning, for the first time, I realized that there was something fundamental to the story of the Passion that I had never recognized before, something that made Mary’s role in it all nearly superhuman. I had always thought I could picture myself in her shoes, standing silently, watching her son be tortured, watching him die. I thought I could imagine what that would be like. But I can’t. Not really. Because I do not have her faith.
It was physically difficult for me to relinquish my own son to doctors and nurses who wanted only to save him. If God asked me to relinquish my son to people who wanted to kill him, I wouldn’t do it. Not in a million years. If it had been my son at the Passion I’d have gone shrieking and screaming into the fray, fists flying, determined to protect my son or die trying.
It’s an understandable reaction, really. There is something primal that comes with motherhood, an almost animal instinct to protect your children. It’s an instinct that I’ve embraced at times and struggled against at times, but it’s certainly not an instinct that I’ve ever considered as antithetical to trust in God. Over the past few days I’ve started to come to the uncomfortable realization that it might be.
Rationally, I know that God loves my children far more than I do, far more, in fact, than I am even capable of. Rationally I know that He has a plan for them and that He will never forsake them. Rationally I know that the best thing I could do for my children is entrust them to God, loosen my grip a little and say, Here, Lord, they are your children after all.
But I’m no Hannah, and I’m certainly no Mary. I look at their faces while they’re sleeping and some part of me grips them tighter and thinks desperately, I cannot give them up, not even to you, God. What if your plans for them are not mine? What if your plans involve pain and suffering, illness, danger, or death? What if I give them over to you and you take them from me? I do not have enough faith. I do not trust you.
Yet the cross of motherhood is one of dying to self, over and over, again and again. First you have to let go of the self you loved to make room for these small, noisy, demanding creatures. Then you have to learn to love them more than you ever loved yourself. Then, when you’ve learned that and then some, you have to let them go, these people who now mean more to you than your own life.
My children are still young. I don’t have to let them go physically yet. But the spiritual part has already begun. It will take years until I am able to say, They are yours, Lord. I trust you, and even then I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll say it with some trepidation. If the tears falling on my keyboard right now are any indication, it’s going to be a painful process as well as a long one. But that is what God has asked of all of us, whether we are parents or not…that we give up what we hold the most dear for Him. After all, He did it first for us.