This week my oldest and youngest sons are away with my sister-in-law in Atlanta. The absence of their footfalls on the stairs and still-child-pitched voices reminds me time is indeed passing. The absence gives me time to imagine the future, times of great joy in their growth–but also great sorrow. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to protect them from it. I will still watch them go to war with pain. I will watch them fight their own battles, battles that I cannot fight for them.
As their mother, my heart will be broken and crushed along with theirs. Perhaps my pain will be deeper than theirs, because I will be only able to stand by. I will watch and pray with a white-knuckled grip. I will feel every blow. I will lose sleep and I will fret. I will cry and I will wonder if they will make it through. I look at this picture of Mary holding her baby boy, her eldest son, and I cannot hold back tears at one of the truest things in life: the deeper the love, the deeper the pain.
Pain, I know, makes us. Pain is used by God to shape our character. Pain is the plow that breaks up the hard ground in our hearts, softening it to feel compassion, to experience grace, to become a person of depth. Pain has shaped me, too, and in God’s mysterious way, he transforms my pain to joy, my ashes to His beauty.
God allows us to journey back along that path and lead others. We lead our children and our spiritual children out of our own character-shaping experiences. Without the pain in the first place, we would never know the way.
As we watch God shape our physical and spiritual children into men and women he can use, we parents also need a new level of strength. We need vision to see beyond the temporal hardship, to see beyond the tears and the turmoil, to embrace the sorrow that comes but hold on to the hope that clings to God, who “works all things together for good.” We must cling to the One who does have the plan, and who is never shocked or surprised by the pain that comes into our children’s lives, because there is nothing that he cannot redeem.
If you need that promise today, I invite you to join me in prayer, a prayer Ken Gire wrote in his book, “Shaped by the Cross.” In this book, Gire reflects on Michelangelo’s incredible work, The Pieta. This is a prayer at the end of the chapter focused on Mary’s sorrow and strength, her grief and her peaceful surrender, all captured in this one moment, holding her oldest son and our Savior after his death.
Grant me…the strength to open my hands, not knowing what all you want me to give, knowing only that is is to your hands I give it. Help me to love those hands more than I love whatever it is I hold in mine. Help me to realize, Lord, that those I love are the work of your hands, not mine.
Yours are the hands that hold them, that mold them and that work all things together in their lives for good. Thank you for using me in their lives, in however small a way, for however short a time. And thank you, thank you so very much, for using them in mine.
(excerpt from “Shaped by the Cross: Meditations on the Sufferings of Jesus” by Ken Gire)