Recently I was reflecting on the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-50). I was thinking about the important difference between caring, nurturing, and supporting someone in a healthy, life-giving way versus smothering or enabling them — a tricky and delicate balance. And being human, we can err on either side.
As I meditated on this passage of Jesus staying behind in the temple without Mary or Joseph knowing it, I watched closely how the Blessed Mother handled the situation. She and Joseph spent three very frantic days looking for their son. I can only imagine the agony in their hearts as they pictured all the terrible things that could have happened to Jesus. Just because Our Lady was sinless doesn’t mean she didn’t feel all the emotions that a mother would feel. When they finally found him, safe and holding his own among the teachers in the temple, they were shocked. “When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.’” (Luke 2:48) Can’t you hear the pain and confusion in Mary’s question? I’m sure she was so relieved but at the same time, she just couldn’t understand how her beloved, well-behaved son could do such a thing to them.
A “lost” child on the Ranch
I remember once when a family was visiting the Lord’s Ranch. They had several young children, and one day we all went for a walk in the desert. On the way back, since we were all walking at different paces, we got separated. One of the boys from the visiting family was walking with me and one of the kids from the Ranch, and we were chatting and enjoying the walk. We reached my house, and the three of us went inside to get a drink of water. I had some chocolate cake I had made and offered them each a slice, and we were happily eating and enjoying the treat.
Unbeknownst to me, the parents of the family didn’t know that their son had walked home with me. They panicked when they couldn’t find him, and soon all the other Ranchers were frantically looking for this boy. There was a shallow lake at the Lord’s Ranch at the time, and some of the search party were running around the perimeter to see if the boy had accidentally fallen in. I’m not sure how long everyone searched, but it was long enough to cause severe stress and anxiety.
Meanwhile the two children and I are peacefully munching on our cake, oblivious of the pandemonium we had caused. Eventually, one of those searching came to my house, discovered that the boy was safe, and raced off to tell his distressed parents the good news. When his mom came running in, she grabbed her son and hugged him, sobbing out her relief. That made the children and me cry as we realized we had unwittingly caused her that pain. The father of the boy, once hearing the news that his son was found and fine, couldn’t even come inside. He had to go off for a time and walk off his stress and anxiousness.
Our Lady suffered
I think of this event when I pray on this Scripture. Mary’s anxiety and deep suffering were real when Jesus went missing! What did he tell her in response to her anguished question? “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” No, they didn’t know that — that’s why they were in such distress and anguish looking for their son. But Mary pondered on all of this in her heart in the coming years — how she needed to let Jesus be free to follow God the Father’s plan for his life, no matter how painful it would be.
And Mary learned the lesson so well that Jesus left it up to her as to when he would begin his public ministry. At the wedding at Cana, when she made known to him the need of the bridal couple — “They have no wine” (John 2:3) — she knew that if he performed the miracle, it meant no turning back. He would no longer live at home and be safe and hidden from the world’s harsh eyes. But Our Lady had prayed and pondered much, and she trusted fully in God’s plan and purpose. So she let Jesus get on with what he had come into the world to do: “Do whatever he tells you.” (vs. 5) And with those words, Jesus was launched.
What can we learn?
What can we learn from this? To deal rightly with each soul entrusted to us — children, spouse, clients, family members, spiritual directees, etc. — requires much prayer, pondering and grace from above. Our Lady will help us to know what to do in each situation — whether the person needs more freedom and allowance to make his or her own mistakes, or whether they require more input and protecting, and anything else in between. She will teach us that delicate, life-giving balance and how to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
All we need to do is to ask for her help. She’s really good at this!