“Brothers and sisters: Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” – Hebrew 4:14-16
After a long sleepless night with our fourth baby, we made it to a later than normal Sunday Mass. Sustained on a coffee high I heard this reading from Hebrews and wondered, how does Jesus, the high priest sympathize with me a mother? He never had children. He never was kept awake by them, in what way does he sympathize with me?
So, I brought it up to my husband after Mass. His response, “Jesus gave up sleep lots of times, on purpose. So, don’t complain.” Okay, okay, yes, Jesus did suffer way more than I have ever had to.
Maybe I am not the only parent who wondered this, so I came up with a few ways parenting young children and babies is similar to the life of Christ. For He can indeed sympathize with our weaknesses.
1) Being woken up from sleep
Jesus was slumbering deeply in a boat, and a storm came along. The helpless disciples look at him and wonder how he can possibly be asleep through this disaster. They shake him awake. He looks around, and calms the storm with a few words, and all is well.
A father is slumbering deeply, and his four year old wakes up. She is scared in a dark room. Her covers have fallen off. Where is her father to fix her covers? She climbs out of bed, walks to his room, and wakes him. He listens to her, says a prayer for her to not be scared, tucks her back in, and all is well.
2) Feeding the growing family
Jesus is teaching, doing his work; the disciples tell him that everyone is hungry and they can’t get there own food. So, he stops what he is doing, and makes everyone lunch. He multiplies the bread and fish.
A mother is trying to get things done around the house, paying some bills, switching out laundry. The kids are hungry. So, she stops what she is doing, and makes everyone lunch. Maybe not multiplying, but getting food for those who cannot get it themselves.
3) Not eating
Jesus went out and fasted and prayed all the time. He did it for forty days.
Once the mother makes everyone their meal, the baby decides that he wants to nurse. So, mom sits down to feed the baby. Mom is fasting for the sake of others.
4) Acting as the healer
Everywhere Jesus went, the sick asked for him to heal them. He took care of them all with care and love, and they all had faith that he would be able to do it.
A child skins his knee, or his belly hurts. He comes to his parents with every confidence that they will make him feel better. And they do everything that they can for him.
5) The Agony in the Garden
Jesus knows he is going to be arrested, so he stays up all night to pray and to accept his cross. He is arrested; he accepts it. He is beaten; he accepts it. His blood runs down his back and face. He carries his cross. He is crucified and dies. He gives us new life.
A parent knows that having a baby means being up a lot at night. They accept this. They spend hours awake many nights in a row, carrying the baby.
A mother knows that having a baby means giving the entire gift of her body. She gives it for 9 months, and at the end she goes through the intense pains of labor, then the recovery, then the sleepless nights, and feeding the baby with her own body.
But together the parents give the baby life.
Jesus has never been a parent to children who wake him at night, but he does sympathize. Sleep is an important part of living and functioning and doing our daily tasks. But parents, as they are not called to the contemplative life nor have spiritual superiors from which to practice mortification, are given these opportunities in their daily lives.
If only we can turn these daily mortifications into prayer, or even intend them to be offered up in advance, that will help us to become better.
When it is 4 am, the baby won’t sleep, the projectile spit-up has covered your bed, is soaking through your pajamas, cold and clammy against your skin, remember that you have a high priest who sympathizes.
And then, “let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”