We were at a restaurant in Jacksonville Beach, where my great-nephew, Noah, 18 months old, was eating tidbits handed him by his mom.
At the end of the meal, the waitress gave lollipops to everyone, and Noah ecstatically rapped the lollipop against the tabletop, babbling with delight. Impulsively, one adult started imitating him. Soon we were all laughing and banging the tabletop with our lollipops. For me, the moment was a living illustration of what Jesus meant when he said we had to become like children to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
During our vacation, I watched my great-nephew carefully, keeping Jesus’ words in mind. Every moment, I realized, is a cause for this kid to celebrate. When he wasn’t parading around, laughing, you’d find him jubilantly pushing his toy car.
When he got scared, he shouted “Ma-Ma” at the top of his lungs. And his mom, my niece, was never more than a few steps away. When Noah got hungry, Ma-Ma was there to feed him. If he wanted to play, she joined in.
Becoming like a child, it seems, means joyously recognizing that God is there to meet your every need.
Of course, when Jesus spoke his words about becoming childlike, people assumed that mothers would care for their children, day in and day out. Today, women like my niece often have to defend their choice of being stay-at-home moms in a world that seems to value only professions that bring in money.
Still, when Jesus talked about children, surely he meant happy ones like Noah, who knows he comes first in his mom’s life — always.
Now that the Jan. 1 Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is upon us, I’m thinking about how the Blessed Mother brought up Jesus at a time when everyone accepted that a mother’s life revolved around her family.
Mary’s heart was centered on her child, but she remained in the background of the Gospels. She only has a few “speaking lines.” And yet, without the background, you cannot see any image clearly.
Today, the child who goes to school in clean clothing with homework done reveals how important background figures are. Someone had to wash the child’s clothes, pack her lunch and be sure homework was done on time. And so often, that devoted someone is a mother — a humble person who, like Mary, doesn’t mind being in the background.
And as the child grows, that mother must explain everything, from how to peel a banana to how to pray.
Watching my niece with Noah, I saw clearly that mothering truly is an all-encompassing vocation, especially for the first few years. And I thought again about Jesus’ words about becoming “like children.”
Of course, Jesus would have known that childhood was a place of joy and peace and great love. He, after all, had been cared for, day in and day out, by a humble and sweet lady, who hastened to his every “Ma-Ma.” Mary had fed him, bathed him and taught him how to pray. She had shown him the true heart of love that comes from putting others’ needs first.
And, like my niece, she knew deep in her heart that taking care of her little boy was the most important thing a mother can ever do. Even when she’s the Mother of God.
Lorraine Murray’s latest book is How Shall We Celebrate? (Resurrection Press).