I clearly remember that day.
We were in the grocery store. My 4 year old was in the cart, and my five year old was walking beside the cart, holding my hand. I dropped her little hand and turned slightly to the side and bent down to grab a case of bottled water from the bottom shelf. I stood up, placed the water in the cart, and turned around to take my daughter's hand again, and she was gone.
Instantly, my heart started pounding and I felt sick to my stomach. Where was she?! She was just right here…and now, she is now longer in the same aisle. I ran to the end of the aisle and she was no where to be found. I began screaming her name. Shear panic had set in by this point. I could feel the tears flooding my eyes. How could this be happening? She was just holding my hand!
Finally, after what seemed to be forever, but in reality was only about 10 seconds, I heard her little voice behind me saying, “Mommy, I'm right here. I found the pop tarts.”
I had never been so relieved in all of my life. The relief was short-lived though, as guilt overtook me. What kind of mother loses her child in the grocery store? Now, I realize I'm not the only mother who has experienced this, but on that particular day, I was convinced that I just was not cut out for motherhood.
Today, seven years later, while sitting in Mass, I was reminded of this incident as the Priest read today's Gospel reading: Luke 2: 41-52.
Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in favor before God and man.
Something hit me while the Priest was reading today. Something that I had never really considered before….Mary lost Jesus. Mary lost her child…and not just for a minute or so, for three whole days. Not only did Mary lose her son, but she lost the son of God! Can you imagine how she must have felt?
I can only imagine the inner dialog that was going on in her mind.
“God, I knew I wasn't cut out for this.”
“God, you trusted me and I lost your son.”
“God, how disappointed in me you must be.”
I imagine Mary pleading with God to keep Jesus safe, to help her find him. I'm sure she shed a few tears on that trip back to Jerusalem. I'm sure that she feared the worst.
I'm sure she once again questioned God's choosing of her to be the mother of His Son.
I'm sure that just like I was that day in the grocery store, Mary of was filled with guilt, and seriously questioned her mothering abilities.
She was a mother just like you and me. She lost her child.
How many times have we felt these same feelings that Mary must have been feeling during those three days that Jesus was missing?
Like me, you might have had a missing child. Maybe for only a few moments, maybe longer.
Maybe you have a “missing child” in the form of a child who has rebelled against God and their family. You experience that same guilt and questioning of your parenting abilities. You blame yourself and wonder where you went wrong. It breaks your heart to see your child in pain. You pray for God to bring him/her back and to keep them safe on the journey.
Maybe you have a missing child in your home as the result of pregnancy loss or the death of a child. You still feel guilt. Thinking that somehow you failed your child. You failed to keep him/her safe in this world. This week is especially hard for me because it is the seven year anniversary of the loss of our fourth child as the result of an ectopic pregnancy at 13 weeks gestation. The guilt surrounding this loss still overwhelms me daily. My body failed my child, and the grocery store incident took place only a few short weeks later. My mothering abilities were seriously being called into question.
The end of today's reading shows us that Jesus is reunited with his family, gives them an answer that they don't fully understand when he is asked why he scared them like that, and “his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, age, and favor before God and man”.
Mary pondered these things in her heart.
Seven years later, I'm still pondering these things in my heart. I don't fully understand why it happened, but I see through this reading that just as Jesus clearly tells His family that he was doing God's will and they didn't understand, it's often God's will in the lives of my children that I may not fully understand.
As Hannah told Eli in 1 Samuel, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord”.
Sometimes, we have to “lose” our children in order to allow God room to work in their lives.
I don't know how you lost your child. Maybe it was a temporary thing in a crowded store. Maybe it was by God calling him/her home. Maybe your child is still lost and you're praying for his/her return. I pray that tonight, you are comforted by knowing that God is and has been with them through it all. I pray that you will be released from the guilt that has bound you. After all, the most perfect mother in the world, chosen by God himself to mother His Son lost her child….twice.
God's grace flows freely, moms. Allow yourself to soak it up.