Liturgically, we’re taking a brief breath in ordinary time. But Lent starts next week and I’m often caught a little off-guard by it. Usually, I feel like I’m still catching my breath after the busyness of the Christmas season when this precious penitential time circles around again.
How quickly the seasons spin by! How we seem to jump from celebrating the birth of Christ to preparing for His Passion.
But reflect on the fact that thirty years of Jesus’ life were lived quietly in-between, the time before his public ministry, the years wrapped in mystery – years of quiet work, much prayer, humility, poverty, and obedience.
The hidden years.
The one small but eternally significant glimpse we have into these years is the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. After their distress at losing their son on the way back to Nazareth, Joseph and Mary find him in the temple, amazing the teachers. Astonished herself, Mary wonders how this could have happened – and young Jesus reminds her of business he must be “about.” Still, he returns home with them, slips back into obscurity and obedience, and lives the life of a simple carpenter. I think of him, coming home for dinner, covered in sawdust and wood shavings, washing his hands, praying over the food, telling his mother about his day.
How incredible that the Son of God, born to reveal the love of God the Father, lived most of his life in the secret, sacred everyday. But yet how like God, to be found in the little things.
Even though these years are shrouded in silence, for many of us mothers, we do understand the hidden years because we live them. Motherhood years – mostly, these are our hidden years, too.
Years we are hidden in the cry room. Years we are lost in the cereal aisle. Years bent over kitchen sinks, bathroom floors, laundry baskets, and untied shoes. Years of nights broken up into bits of sleep. Years looking for lost socks, hair bows, and lego guys. Years smeared in peanut butter and fingerprints. Years that will go unnoticed by many but which are growing secret miracles nonetheless.
We can rejoice because this small but sacred time, tucked away in our homes, was lived before us. It was lived by three far holier than we can hope to be, and by living it, Jesus gave new meaning to the more mundane parts of life. Jesus lived family life in order to redeem it.
That means, that our providing, parenting, and housekeeping has been sanctified by the Holy Family. That it has been giving a depth and meaning it could never have had before because He became one with us in it.
Christ came to reveal the Father to us and to reconcile all things to Him. All things. Even the smallest human acts, the ones performed in the wombs of our homes, where life begins to bloom and twist itself out the soil of our selfishness. Where we encounter a God who surprises us in a thousand tiny ways, manifest to our eyes only: the deep fulfillment found in a child’s sleepy caress, the astonishing freedom found in surrendering to dishes and dust bunnies, the joy of seeing a sunset through eyes so fresh they find delight in everything.
And here is something really incredible. Not only is the Christian life redeemed in all its moments by a God who entered them to make them holy – but it is also meant to mysteriously extend Christ’s own life, throughout time, in our own.
We extend the mystery of the hidden years in our own homes.
“ We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often to beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church…For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in his mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in his whole Church. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us.” – St. John Eudes, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 521.
So when we slip into that desolate time, the time of self-doubt, the lying one on our left shoulder may tell us that it’s all meaningless, that our gifts are wasted, our individuality lost, our dreams left behind. The reality is that we are never more ourselves when we are living fully and making present again the life that was so holy it had to be a hidden, veiled sort of pre-heaven.
Because so often, the most precious things are the hidden ones.