This post is part of our Lenten series, journeying the Stations of the Cross. In this reflection on the Seventh Station of the Cross, Jesus Falls for the Second Time, Contributor Sefanit takes us into the vulnerability of God’s unique call for her motherhood.
Prior to becoming a mother, the idea of embracing my weakness was something I could only understand abstractly. I was brought up on a steady diet of encouragement and the American belief that the world was my oyster, and there was nothing I could not succeed at if I truly put in the effort. Being the daughter of refugees, as well, I witnessed my parents’ experience of immigrating to this country, working hard, and building from nothing a middle-class life for us, all while also supporting family members still back home who were suffering from the effects of war and corruption. I didn’t harbor any hopes of becoming an Olympic athlete or anything like that, but in a general sense, my experiences taught me that I, too, through hard work and dedication, could succeed in this world.
Though I do still believe all of this is necessary to teach a child virtuous living, deep within me, it did create a sort of semi-pelagianism regarding the avoidance of suffering. Unconsciously, I came to believe that in every dimension of my person, if I worked hard enough, I could avoid weakness and failure. This worked fine for me until the Lord offered me the vocation of being a wife and mother. Realizing that a vocation is a calling from God, I went on an 8-day Ignatian retreat to try to discern God’s will for my life and begged the Lord to show me, was I called to join a religious community, or should I join my life to a young man with whom I was currently discerning marriage?
Ultimately, the retreat culminated in me feeling like God was offering me a choice. Either option was open for me to choose, but I sensed in my prayer that God was saying for me, life as a wife and mother would be most effective in making me a saint. I vaguely understood this to include suffering, but since at that point in my life I had not experienced it much, I wasn’t too worried. My rose-colored glasses were comfortably secured on my face, and I was enjoying the view.
The whirlwind of our amazing wedding and honeymoon confirmed my deeply held belief that life was going to be perfect for us. And then, when we effortlessly found ourselves expecting a month into our marriage, on the Feast of the Annunciation no less, we were delirious with joy and gratitude. God was good and that his plan was one of goodness was our daily refrain.
The first hint that God’s plan might include some suffering as well didn’t manifest itself until a few months later, when a routine ultrasound of our baby revealed soft markers for Trisomy 21, more commonly known as Down Syndrome. Another few months, and our first-born son and the light of our family, Felix, was born. Suddenly, the glasses we wore turned love-colored, and though we couldn’t see clearly through them, the medical professionals noticed the almond-eyes, smaller hands, and other attributes, and had their suspicions. It wasn’t confirmed for us for another few months, but deep down I think we knew.
Expecting couples are often promised by friends and family that they will pray for a healthy baby. In those months leading to the birth of our son, I had a lot of time to think about what that meant. I had time to reevaluate my ideas of success and perfection, of weakness and failure. Of society’s expectations and of my own hopes and dreams for my children. What I realized was that my view of God was surprisingly superficial. That although I was brought up in the Catholic faith and had grown up looking at countless crucifixes in churches all around the world, I fundamentally didn’t expect that I would also experience the same Passion our Lord did. Subconsciously, I saw God as a kind of good luck charm and the primary payoff of faith was to be kept from the possible pain and suffering this world could offer. I knew theologically that baptism into my faith was a baptism into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but deep down, I also believed that God was my Father and His love for me meant that I was protected.
I once heard it said that having children is like walking around with your heart on your hip. Suddenly, everything that matters most to you is in your arms and you are filled with fears and anxieties that you never had with regards to your own self. I think this is true for all parents, but I believe it’s especially amplified for parents of children with special needs. For these parents, every doctor visit is a reminder of weakness and limitation in the world’s view. You are constantly told the things that your child will struggle with and the medical complications that might be in your future. Even the simplest milestone is fiercely fought for and when reached, is celebrated with the same intensity.
When reflecting on Jesus falling for a second time on His journey to his cross, I can’t help but reflect on my journey with my son. Though we have had lots of opportunities to rejoice with him—when he rolled over for the first time, when he got strong enough to latch and breastfeed, when he walked unassisted for the first time—we’ve also had lots of experiences that made us embrace our weaknesses. The weakness we feel as parents because of our limitations, and the realization that regardless how much we try to push, support, and encourage, so much is out of our control.
We have had to surrender this feeling of weakness to the Lord and ask him for the same grace He promised St Paul when He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The grace I would imagine Jesus pleaded for when he fell a second time. Although this is a process and we’re only at the beginning stages, already God has been very faithful to His promises.
God has broadened our vision of what success means in this world and what our mission is as parents. He has deepened our love and strengthened our resolve to give our children every opportunity to meet their individual and unique potential. He has given us a new ability to wonder and rejoice at the giftedness of each of our children, and although we are still struggling to learn this, He is teaching us how to surrender our children to Him. My husband reminds me all the time that God loves our children more than we do, and though I am slow to learn, I am getting there.
My prayer for each of us as we reflect on our Lord’s passion this Lenten season is that God shows each of us where in our own unique story He has placed challenges specially designed to bring us to our knees, and while there, to ask God for the strength that only He can provide.