“A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35)


A sketch of my children by seminarian Matthew Hoffpauir

[note that the post continues past the video]

A time ago, I had a tough day that followed on some rough struggles one of my children was going through. I snuck away to the levee for a few hours to process it all, and cleared my head. Afterward, I did a voice-to-text summary of the experience that I thought I would share here. Though I am not generally a fan of oversharing deeply personal struggles in public forums, sometimes I believe doing so can be useful for others who struggle. I hope that’s the case here. It’s raw and unrefined but exactly what I felt in my guts as I finished my micro-retreat that day.

I took the Chevy to the levee and man-oh-man it was balm for my soul. In front of God, birds and maybe a turtle, I *cried* my guts out, and prayed through my tears, and you know what? I stopped crying. It really does stop. And I felt so much better. Cathartic. Washed. I rarely cry, so when I do it’s an avalanche. I was especially grateful no human was around to watch!

Here’s what came out at core. I can take work stress, financial stress, extended family stress. Lots of stressors. But my kids. When they’re in distress, it’s really really hard to handle. Suddenly makes the doable stressors un-doable. Cuts you to the core. Makes you bleed. Your kids are part of your heart, your soul. You know, when they suffer you want to scoop them up, make it all better. Like waking them from a night terror, you want to sing and rock them back to sleep. Stroke their hair. But on waking to reality you suddenly realize you can’t do that anymore. You can’t fix life’s wounds with a tender kiss, a band-aid and a fun treat. Adulthood means they must now face the darkness and shadows themselves. They have to. They need to know how to trust God and cling to Him themselves, apart from my body and voice. That is a black night of the soul for a parent: to let go. To admit in reality, and not just in a pious prayer, they’re really His; and they’re their own.

Then your morning prayer of meditation-hoping-for-contemplation suddenly gets interrupted by thoughts of your children’s welfare. Self-enriching meditation becomes pleading-prayer, all about them. All about asking God to be who His is: all about them. Who has time for ethereal contemplation when your children’s lives now rest in the balance of your pleas before the Eternal?

Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Parents who want nothing more than that their kids to “draw near to God” get lost in Jesus’ tireless priestly prayer: He lives to make intercession. Scripture says nowhere that Jesus contemplates the Father, but it does say that He pleads before the Father for the “children God has given me” (Heb 2:13). Intercessory prayer beautifully joins love of God and neighbor, as you are asking God to do His good things in another. Intercessory prayer helps keep your other forms of prayer from becoming too much about sating your appetite for self-gratifying spiritual goodies, and keeps prayer about acquiring in order to expend on others.

Parents must let go of their adult children and give them over to God, but the form letting-go and giving-over takes for us as people of faith is not apathy or detachment, but ceaseless intercession for them till your last breath; or theirs. And beyond. Kyrie eleison, ad infinitum…

And even more, as you face the letting-go process you realize that regretting what YOU did or did not do for them in the past only takes you into bad places. Even to despair. The past can’t be undone or redone, only learned from and forgiven. Such regret must teach you to pray as you never have, from the guts. De profundis, as psalm 130 begins. Guts prayer makes you see so clearly that it is not by ‘faith alone,’ but by ‘mercy alone’ that we are saved. Mercy — love’s touch on evil and failure — alone makes life livable, hopeful. And mercy makes despair into iron-cast humility.

Humility. Yes. There’s a toughly-tender Jersey Jewish mother I know who once said some amazing words to me I’ll never ever forget. And they came to mind today as I was heading to the levee: “We are made in weakness that we might supply for each other.” Made in weakness?! Yuck! Fell into weakness via sin, yes, but made in weakness?? An Omnipotent God who makes man in His image would never do such a thing! Power must be our natural state. Look, I’m a White Anglo Male, I hate feeling weak in front of others. Yet the truth is I feel my humanity most when I face my weakness with a trusted *other* and rely on their strength in the moment of weakness. That’s when you REALLY feel intimate with the God-with-skin-on, when your exhausted arms held up by Aaron and Hur (Ex 17:12); by Patti and Peggy; by Austin and Paul; by Sonya and Faye; by Mary and Juan…

An Omnipotent God whose terrifying omnipotence is love that risks weakness, that becomes weakness for love’s sake. Far more terrifying than destructive power is the power that awaits your free consent of surrender to enter the union of love. One conquers without, the other, within.

“Hence, those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union” (Pope Francis).

Parents enter the heights of mystical union with God mostly by praying and loving and forgiving and laboring through the thickness of family muck, the unplanned joys and heart-rending tragedies. But it’s not automatic. You’re sainted only if you choose to cling to God’s mercy in the darkest night, give thanks on the brightest days and sleeplessly give your children’s lives over to a Father whose love endures forever.

I’d trade it all for nothing, because love is the only measure that endures.

Botticelli’s “Trinity”, c. 1493 wikimedia.org

6 comments on ““A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35)

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you so much for having expressed these thoughts on intercession ‘behind the scenes’. It is profound encouragement.
    Praying, pleading, begging for the conversion/reversion of one’s closest, beloved ones is agonizing but that agony reveals a glimpse of His agony, His heart hurting for love of this sinner; overwhelming but that being overwhelmed means falling into His arms of mercy. If prayer doesn’t change God, but does change us, then maybe it’s about making our earthen hearts truly capable of containing Him so that we might be capable of carrying Him out into the wilderness to meet His (our) beloved one there. His love with our face.

    Praying for you and your loved ones.
    In Christ,

  2. Joanna Brady says:

    Thankyou so much for sharing this Dr Tom:just wanted to reply because it’s so heartfelt ,and heart received.Jennifers reply says it beautifully.
    the hardest bit is the heart wringing lonely agony of it all,and yet when we come through the struggle, the Lord is there waiting for us and some how always taking us deeper into community ,blessings

  3. WoopieCushion says:

    Whenever you share like this Tom it blesses me with hope in my struggle. Thank you. Be assured of prayers for you and the fam.

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