Love on Loan

I have cooties. I don't mean to alarm anyone, but apparently it's true. The other night, when I tucked my 5-year-old son Ambrose into bed, I leaned in to kiss him good night and was greeted with a stern, “Not on the lips, please.”

This is Ambrose, the same child I cherished and sang to during the months I carried him within me. I nursed him moments after his birth. I counted his fingers and toes, and memorized every dimple and curve of his tiny, perfect body.

Not on the lips? As a toddler, Ambrose used to climb onto my lap and beg, “Tickle love, Mama!” He then squealed with delight as I covered him with kisses and ravaged his belly with “raspberries.” Now he's developed a sudden distaste for physical affection, particularly from his mother.

I am trying not to take the rejection too personally. The first night he issued the admonishment, I froze. My maternal instincts told me to snatch his small body from the bed and clutch him close in spite of his protests. I resisted this urge, though. I swallowed my wounded pride and gently touched my lips to his cheek.

Some days, however, when he wrenches his hand away from mine or squirms his way out of a hug that lasts too long, I can't help but feel that this turn of events is terribly unfair. This is Ambrose, I think. I am his mother. He is my boy and I'll kiss him if I want to.

Eventually, though, I have to admit that, although I am his mother, Ambrose is not mine. Whether I like it or not, he is fast becoming his own little person and he belongs to God alone. When I feel my little boy pulling away from me, my feelings of hurt and indignation make me realize all the more how much each of us owes to God. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” God tells the prophet Jeremiah. “Before you were born, I dedicated you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Indeed, God does know each of us perfectly. In perfect generosity he made us and in perfect goodness he loves us unconditionally. More than anyone or anything on earth, our Creator has a claim on us. We belong to him. Despite this fact, however, God doesn't force us to love him in return. Because he loves us, he gives us free will so we might choose to know, love and serve him.

My hurt feelings at Ambrose's rejection make me recognize all the more what a grievous injustice it is for man to turn his back on his Creator and to deny God the devotion he deserves.

Recently, Ambrose and I spent a Saturday afternoon running errands together. We went to the drugstore and the supermarket, then stopped for a snack and a drink. “This is fun,” I told him. “It's like we're on a date.”

When he asked what a date was, I explained that sometimes a boy and a girl go out together to have fun and get to know each other better. Keenly aware of his recent disdain for all things feminine, I teased him a little by telling him that someday he'll probably want to date a girl.

Ambrose nibbled an animal cracker thoughtfully. He was sober as he considered the concept of willingly spending free time with a member of the opposite sex.

If ever I doubted God's generous love and his tender care for even this humble mother's delicate feelings, my confidence was reinspired by what Ambrose said next.

He fixed his gaze on me and said, “I want to date you, Mama.”

I pulled my 5-year-old boyfriend close so he wouldn't see the tears in my eyes. I felt his small heart beating against my chest. I held him just a little bit longer than usual. And I noted that he let me. For now.

Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.