Loving the Adult Jesus
When kids are very young, their needs are intense, but very simple. In the best moments, it's easy for us parents to love our babies and little ones, because what they need is what you want to give them, and what you want is to be needed by them. In the good moments, at least, there isn't much of a gulf between what you enjoyed doing and what you needed to do. In the best moments, it's extremely easy to love a baby.
But when kids get older, there are more steps to love. It's not that we love them less. In many ways, learning to raise older kids teaches us how to deepen and diversify the way we understand love. But it's just a fact of life that older kids are sometimes unreasonable, neurotic, hard to read, or just plain complicated. We love them, and we try to do right by them, but man, it doesn't always come easy. There's no "You're crying? Here's milk, and now we're both happy!" Few things are simple, and some of the most important aspects of raising older kids are the ones that come the least naturally.
Even parents who get more satisfaction out of raising older kids occasionally remember with some wistfulness how simple things used to be when the kids were young. Loveable face gets loved, the end. The older our children get, the more we find affection mixed in with all kinds of normal, natural, complicated complications.
You don't have to be a parent to know what I'm talking about. The liturgical year can present us with the same difficulty: Christmas is the infancy of the Faith, and most people find it pretty easy to be happy about about their Faith at this time of year -- at least in the good moments. Even when the season is stressful or exhausting, most of us at least occasionally taste those golden moments where the music is right, the candles are glowing, we're finally holding a mug of something hot, finally hearing the happy murmurs of the baby in the manger. At the best moments, we love Christmas, baby Jesus loves us, and it is just plain nice. It's simple to respond as we should, at least on the good days. A simple "Gloria!" and we're doing it right.
But what about when the liturgical year grows up? Jesus starts making His first recorded trouble when He is twelve years old, with the finding in the temple, and from that day forward, the way we love Christ becomes more complicated, what with making awkward confessions, following doctrine we don't always understand, defending ours faith to a hostile world, or just doing the right thing when it feels like God is nowhere to be found. What He wants from us is not always what we want to give Him, and what we want to give Him is not always what is needed. Loving an adult Jesus is learning how to be an adult in the Faith -- and it's not always simple! It doesn't come easy, like loving the shining babe in the manger does.
What to do? I've found a simple solution. It doesn't always work, but it's better than feeling that there's no way to bridge that gulf between the good old days and the impossible present. Here's what you do: you look at the adult face, and you remember the baby. You remind yourself: It's still the same person. The very same person.
Here's how it works. Say I'm feeling aggravated because an older kid is being a big baby about doing his math homework. Rather than give myself over to justifiable irritation, I try to remember: This is my baby. I can let myself feel sorry for him now, just like I did when he was innocently bawling over a hair that had somehow gotten wrapped around his fat little baby finger. Maybe he really does need to pull himself together and just do the stupid work, and maybe I need to tell him so; but it's going to make it easier on both of us if I try a little tenderness, at least on the inside (or maybe with a quick, sympathetic hug before I set him straight). That baby love he and I shared so many years ago was not a fantasy or an illusion. It's just buried really deep under the complications of growing older.
I work the same trick on myself when I'm having a hard time dealing with grown-up Jesus. If I find myself bogged down by the difficulties of a Lord who is hard to love -- when He's demanding, or seems unreasonable or hard to reach -- I remind myself: it's the same Person. The very same person, and all He ever wants is to be loved. And that is a very good place to start.
Jesus warned us that we must become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven. A companion thought that may help: remember that Jesus is ready to be received like a little child, to lead us to Heaven. The sweetness of Christmas is not a fantasy or an illusion. Rather than growing out of the simple love we have for the Christ Child, we should revel it in while it is immediately present, and then remember that it's ours to bring back to life during the rest of the year, when the demands of love get more complicated. "Gloria" is still always the right response.