On my ride I encountered a young mother with two rambunctious children and I longed to escape into my book that I’m reading for my spiritual direction course. I was obviously distracted by the high pitched voices of these two kids and my fear that they weren’t sitting back in their seats on the rickety ride downtown.
“Sit back! I’m not gonna tell you again!” their mother yelled. A sudden jerk of the train and the little girl to my left nearly got dumped out of her seat.
“See I told you!” mom said. “Be careful, you don’t want to get hurt.”
I thought of all the times this mother must say things like that to her children. The sheer annoyance of having to repeat one’s self dozens of times has to be frustrating. This mom took it all in stride, mixing instructions with great love and a desire for summer to hurry so they can go to the water park.
I felt anonymous. Not being a father I was a mix of jealousness and relief. I didn’t speak nor really even smile at the children who sat in front of me their backs to me on the quick commute. I prayed for mom, that she had patience for an afternoon of rambunctiousness and that she’d keep everyone safe as they travelled. They were certainly a handful.
“OK here we go let’s get off now.” Mom said as she led them off the train. “Cmon, what are you waiting for! The doors are going to close!” They hurried off into the cold winter afternoon.
I gave some sadness to God at that moment. The sadness of not having children and yet, I found a great relief in doing so as if it were not my calling to be more than I already am. I felt a wave of love comforting my initial sadness and turning it into a life that I have made the most out of, a life in which I parent college students, young adults and even the occasional older parishioner.
I wanted another glimpse of the family as the walked down the street alongside my hurtling train. I looked up and there she was. The little girl’s eyes met mine and she began to wave at me. I waved back and smiled and then came the tears.
That was more than enough grace than I would need to sustain me. It seems that even my prayers for families, for the newly engaged couples that I work with and even for this little girl do not go unnoticed.
When people remark that children are a blessing, it makes me cringe. Does that mean that God has chosen not to bless my wife and I because we have no children. All the old testament stories of barren women like Sarah, who even laughs at the possibility of God giving her a child are not ones that often sit well with me and suspect others like me and even single people who choose singleness over married and religious life.
Sunday’s Gospel is one of my favorites. The healing of the paralytic often focuses on Jesus’ action of healing the paralytic–who rises and picks up his mat and goes home.
I choose, however, to focus on the friends of the paralytic. The friends have great faith in both Jesus and their friend. Scholars say that the paralytic’s illness is perhaps psycho-somatic, that he is a victim of belief in divine retribution. In this culture, sickness was a result of sin–God’s curse on someone.
We can believe a lot of things that can in fact, paralyze us. And for me, not having a child has led me into a deeper place of reflection. It’s made me pay attention to my wife more carefully, loving her better than I thought I could. It’s made me appreciate my dog more, no substitute for a child certainly, but a faithful companion who shares love with us, to be sure. My favorite niece has become a treasure to me, not my child, but a loving child who gives me more love than expected. It’s embarked me on being a better minister, sharing more time with students and hearing where their own parents sometimes fail them, frustrate them and yes, even abuse them. I’m often called to pick up the pieces and lift them to the top of the house and drop them through the roof to meet the healer.
I need to be that friend who has the confidence that no sin could ever make God paralyze them. That God forgives them, loves them and wants them to move on into a greater sense of life—one that isn’t tied up with one particular expectation, but calls them into resiliency beyond expectation and into the hope that God will always lift us up again when we are at our lowest moments.
God is there, waving to us…here I am. Thanks for praying. Everything is OK. Keep doing what you are doing and you don’t need to be more than you are already in this moment or anytime after it.
Those friends deeply believed that their friend was no sinner. And that Jesus could allow him to realize that he didn;t have to accept a bemoaned life of regret. Even if he had sinned, it wasn’t all over. God had much more in store for him. “Now rise, pick up your mat, and go home.”
The tragedies of our lives often tie us down to our mats. Today, let us believe that God wants us to believe that we can get past these things and move into freedom–where we are no longer enslaved to our expectations but can move into a life that leads us up the side of a house and down to a savior–who heals us from our tragedies and shows us that we are always more than enough. It’s a long way to go…and that journey may be treacherous, but we have people who can lend a hand and show us the way to the healer, Christ.
Sometimes it only takes the wave of a hand from a child and we are reborn into life’s newness–finding God lurking where we only saw sadness and pain before and reminding us that there is so much more that is offered to us by God.
Today, let us pray for those who seem paralyzed by their situations. May we be able to lift them to Jesus and bring them beyond their pain into getting on life’s journey once again, where we can find that God always offers us more than enough. And where we can rise, pick up our mats and go home.