When my first baby and I had made it through the first critical months of feeding and sleeping, the result was a very plump little girl and a very quickly melting-away mother. I recall how I was carrying my daughter in the back of the church while I listened to the reading where John the Baptist says, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease”. I thought–with the weight of my baby daughter on my hip–that so it was with us: She was increasing and I was decreasing…
The decrease of myself and the increase of my children remain the essence of my vocation: generosity and service. It remains also the “scandal of the Cross”, that enigma to the world that it will never understand. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) Hate could be understood here as a “total lack of understanding”, and as such it is conclusive; it will never change; there is no cross-over between the world and Jesus’ teaching; they remain forever separated. In the eyes of the world, if we don’t live for ourselves in enlightened self-interest, we are simply understood as not living at all, because living is seen as a quantitive ful-filling of ourselves. Consequently, it is scandalous to the mind with this understanding of living that one would ever give, ever welcome, ever sacrifice, unless it is done for personal gain. Give–by all means–but do it in selfish benevolence, to enlarge your ego!
I find this very interesting…because this is truly the opposite of what Jesus says to me: Pick up your cross and follow me.
For many mothers, who spend the majority of their time giving themselves and emptying themselves, the sensation of their proposed non-existence can become clearly critical, confusing and overwhelming! It isn’t often in life that there are such clearly opposite values connected to our actions. Exactly the same action–that of self-emptying–is lethal in the eyes of the world while it is the essence of life to the Christ-follower. An existential emptying of myself, a forgetting of myself, is the aim of Christian life. Hence, if I follow Christ, I distance myself, with every step, from the understanding of the greater majority of people around me! This seems, on the surface, very frightening. Who wants to be isolated? Who wants to be misunderstood? Who wants to be dead and not alive? But this is just at the surface of things… beneath this surface-threat is the possibility of a friendship of much higher quality than any other, and it is one which satisfies the heart and soul completely.
Authentic living is a giving of self, a self-emptying. As such, it needs an object. This object is Christ Jesus. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” How do I convince myself of that Jesus Christ is this object of my giving? It is important to convince myself of it, not by coercion but in all honesty and calm, to avoid the void that presses itself upon me from the worldview without. A philosophical look at the world and living can help. Actions of love are eternal, while no hoarding of selfish acts can ever “add up” to a full measure. Jesus promises us, however, that he will give us a full measure: “Give and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) More than anything, this measure is Himself.
Jesus reassured mothers when He said, “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mothers can give to their children; they can allow and welcome the decrease of themselves and the increase of their children, because–by translation–if we do empty ourselves of ourselves, if we decrease and our children increase, we pick up our cross and follow Him. We do it for Him. We live authentically. We are living in full when we notice and accept and welcome the reduction of ourselves and the increase of our children.