Being a parent is wonderful. It has made my life richer and better. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though; let’s be honest. It’s also a challenge — but it is a challenge we should be willing to take up. It takes self-denial. Not total denial — I am still “me” — but it takes denial nonetheless. It is painful — not every day; it is often beautiful and joyful — but there is pain.
In the fourth sorrowful mystery, in Rosary Army’s Scriptural Rosary, Jesus tells us:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself. And take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)
He doesn’t sugarcoat it for us. “Take up your cross”, He tells us. It’s not going to be easy to follow Him, but it’s the only way to follow Him. It won’t be easy to be a parent. We shouldn’t sugarcoat that either. It won’t be easy, but it’s the only way when a baby is on the way. It’s the only way to follow Christ in that case.
Since my first time volunteering with 40 Days for Life, I’ve been reflecting on these Sorrowful Mysteries. This command of Jesus is applicable to unintended parents as well as intended. Of course, first, we have to ask if any pregnancy is really unintended. Some are, certainly, by the parents, but perhaps none are unintended by God. God sends us crosses in many ways, and He sends them, paradoxically, because He loves us. He sends to many of us something He never had — a cross that can hug him back.
How terrible, calling a baby a cross! For shame! No, they are. Babies are crosses. Spouses are crosses. Parents are crosses. Why? Consider my own marriage. My wife is beloved by me and perfectly beloved by God. I know she deserves, as a daughter of God, to have the perfect spouse. She deserves perfect love, perfect forgiveness, perfect help. She doesn’t get it; she gets imperfect love and imperfect forgiveness and imperfect help from a member of fallen mankind — me. I’m a cross. That’s not humility; that’s reality. You’re a cross too.
We are called to be perfect; Jesus said so Himself. We’re not. We’re far from perfect — most of us, at least, even if we’re getting there, by the grace of God. In those imperfections, we’re each a cross for someone to carry. Our children will challenge us. They will fail, lie, hurt, break, dirty, and disobey. Not always, of course, but at times, and in those times they are a cross.
But what are we supposed to do with crosses? We do what Christ did — we embrace them. Literally. We should embrace them because, first, they are children of God and, second, because they are gifts from God. We should embrace them because, at a distant third, they will make us better. A child is a means to self-improvement, better than any book or CD or conference. A spouse is a means of grace, a way to Heaven; a child, too, is a means of grace and a path to Heaven. If you are a parent, you have a vocation, from the moment the baby exists, regardless of where he or she is, and, if we take God at His word, you will only have joy by embracing it.
Let’s be honest, with ourselves and with those not intending to be parents. Having a child is not all hugs and puppies. Yes, there certainly will be hugs, and there may be puppies, but there are crosses to bear from start to finish. The hugs and other joys are worth getting to. But strangely, the crosses are worth it too. The crosses are worth it in themselves, because they, too, are gifts from God. They are crucial to follow Jesus, because, by His own words, “if any man would come after me.” he should “take up his cross daily”. Not once, daily.
It’s a difficult reality that Christmas leads to Good Friday. The joyful birth leads to the sorrow of the cross. But it’s easy to forget that Good Friday, likewise, leads on to Easter Sunday. The cradle leads to the cross, and the cross leads to resurrection. The cross leads to Heaven. Children lead us to Heaven.
Copyright 2016, Joe Wetterling