Recently I came across a quote by Elizabeth Stone, author and mother. She wrote: "Making the decision to have a child is momentous! It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." Overly dramatic, some might say; exaggerated, others might say. While having a child changes our lives, to say that child is "a heart walking around outside your body" seems to be nonsense... that is, until we ourselves become parents! Then it all begins to make sense. In today's Gospel, Mary & Joseph find this out! The investment we make in parenting is so intense, so self-sacrificing and time-consuming that the thin line between where a child's heart ends and where a parent's heart begins often becomes blurred.
How else do we explain the full range of emotions we experience with our children? We witness their successes and failures, their foolhardiness, their unwillingness to take advice, their inability to understand the consequences for the choices they make. They can irritate us, anger us, frustrate us, surprise us, and at times make us feel so very proud! Our children: "Our hearts walking around outside our bodies."
It wasn't until I became a parent that I was better able to understand the analogy of God as parent. If my heart is "walking around outside my body" in the bodies of our son Matthew and our daughter Lisa, then God must have that same feeling about us? You and I are God's "heart walking around outside God"? That really makes us God's family -- a family of daughters and sons of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus and of each other. That really makes us family!
As our own children grow, we parents should grow too. We should no longer make demands, but gently guide and lovingly watch from a distance. Our hearts will swell proudly with their achievements and groan terribly with their failures. We can support them, yet recognize it's not our responsibility to solve their problems or live their lives. These "hearts outside our bodies" must find their own way.
Kahlil Gibran, author and mystic: "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit : not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children, like living arrows, are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and bends you with his might so that the arrows go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer's hand be for gladness. For even as the Archer loves the arrow that flies, he loves the bow that is stable." May we learn to appreciate more fully and love more deeply these children of ours, these amazing hearts of ours that "walk around outside our bodies." Then we too will grow in age, wisdom and grace!