"He can’t walk, John. We have to take him to the Emergency Room," I yelled in a panic as I grabbed my two-year-old son, Patrick.
Although we were visiting friends to baptize our new godchild, our plans were soon interrupted as we were promptly admitted to a nearby prestigious medical facility. Unfortunately, this was not our first time. During the four months prior to this hospital stay, Patrick had become all too familiar with doctors, cat scans, magnetic resonance imaging procedures, spinal taps, electroencephalographs, and the like. The physicians pinpointed abnormal brain activity on his left parietal lobe they connected to seizure-like episodes but none of them could explain why he was so sick.
On this particular evening, two neurologists poked, prodded, and extracted many vials of blood from Patrick’s little veins. My usually joyful child, held down by physicians, screamed through racking sobs, "Mommy! Mommy! Pick me up! Help me! Please, Mommy!"
Putting my head down, I too began to silently sob and pray, "How did I get here? Why is this happening? You want me to stand here, Lord, and watch him suffer? Do you hear his pain? His cry? Is this what you want? I can’t do it."
I heard a small voice in reply, "My mother did it. She watched me from the cross. I’m asking you to do it. Now." Amidst the deep sadness I felt and the growing worry over Patrick’s health, I experienced a deep and immediate peace.
Yes, I thought, Mary did this. Right now, I must too.
"Help me, Mother," I prayed. "I’m not strong like you."
Years ago, a friend’s son was diagnosed with brain cancer. She once shared with me there were many times when she too had to sit and watch as he endured tremendous pain. For fifteen years, my own mother sat and watched as her son struggled with a $5,000 a month drug habit. Imagine the agony and the heartache of these mothers. It’s not natural for any mother to silently watch a suffering child, regardless if the pain endured comes from a physical or a moral wound. As women, we tend, we nurse, and we make things better. We don’t just sit and watch.
Yet that is just what Mary did. Her Son was the victim of abuse, slander, and eventually murder. Despite the injustice, she didn’t meddle in His affairs. When Jesus was being nailed to the cross, she didn’t push her way through the crowds yelling, "Take me instead!" Nowhere in the gospel does Mary tell a Pharisee, "You can’t talk to my Son that way!" Suffering silently, she sat and watched.
That night in the hospital Christ taught me sometimes sitting and watching is exactly what He calls me to do. In that moment, there was nothing I could do to alleviate Patrick’s pain. Like Mary, all I could do was be present and love him with all my might. Mary couldn’t choose Jesus’ anguish just like I had no say in Patrick’s. Although I wanted to protect him, I had to relinquish my desire to control and prevent his suffering. Jesus’ pain allowed Him to save the world. Patrick’s pain drew him closer to the heart of Christ. If either mother had her way, God’s perfect plan would have been thwarted.
Now, after much physical suffering, my friend’s son rests in the arms of Jesus in heaven. One day her entire family will be united in joyful triumph over sadness. My brother is one year and three months clean and sober after a long battle with addictions. Both of these young men experienced physical and emotional suffering. But now they both know Christ. Their mothers watched it all.
Recently, my four-year-old daughter came home from school emotionally distraught.
"The girls didn’t want me to play with me today. They said I couldn’t come into the playhouse," she shared as she nervously fiddled with her hands.
Scooping her into my arms, I listened as she spoke and I guided her in addressing the situation. I was hurt for her; hurt others would be mean to my baby. Honestly, I briefly considered showing up at the playground the next day and "handling" the situation.
Later in the still silence, softly, gently, Jesus reminded me I must again sit and watch. This small battle isn’t mine to fight. I can’t take away the cruel words or the sting of being snubbed. I must trust that God is using these moments to form her will and heart. It’s his plan, not mine. I must accept it. I must love it. I must sit and watch.
So again I pray, "Help me, Mary. I’m not strong like you."
Copyright 2010 Colleen Duggan
About the Author
Colleen Duggan is the author of Good Enough Is Good Enough: Confessions Of An Imperfect Catholic Mom, published by Ave Maria Press. She is a Catholic writer, teacher and speaker whose work has appeared in Catholic Digest, Creative Catechist, CatholicMom.com, Aleteia, and Integrated Catholic Life.