“Mama, why did Jesus have a crown of thorns?” Felicity asked me with her sweet, guileless voice from the backseat of our SUV one particularly cold and gray morning towards the end of another harsh winter.
Surprised, I paused before answering. You see, this is the kind of question that throws me completely off guard – the deep, contemplative type I have been longing to hear since Felicity’s birth, one I imagined would open wide the gates of productive melancholic conversation.
But that day was different. It was an otherwise ordinary morning, one met with the expected flurry of activity before the long haul to Felicity’s preschool. It was also ordinary, because Felicity threw her proverbial tantrum – the type I always see coming from the onset of a twitch from her mouth or a particular sigh she heaves before the screams belt out with magnitude.
I was frazzled from that tantrum. I’m weary of them. It was a wretched way for me to begin that weekday, flustered and heated from the embers of my angry heart – which had explosively exited my mouth more quickly than I’d like to admit.
So the question was not only unexpected but seemingly out of place for a child who is still incapable of fully expressing or controlling her emotions. The question was a humbling one that begged for me to reflect and pray – if only for a moment – before answering in haste.
So I sought the Holy Spirit for inspired wisdom in my response. I am terrible at simplifying theological explanations that, to me, require days or even weeks and months of heavy perusal and intense pondering. Give me a teenager, and we can chat for an hour or more about anything at all, but hand me a toddler and preschooler, and I am a lost cause. Truly.
“Well,” I began thoughtfully, “the people who wanted Jesus to die gave Him a crown of thorns, because they were making fun of Jesus. He was the ‘king of kings,’ because He was God, so instead of giving Him a crown of gold like the kings who live in castles get to wear, they gave Him a painful crown made out of spiked thorns.”
I looked in the rear view mirror to see if I had lost Felicity somewhere in that fairly lengthy explanation. She was listening earnestly, as if I were reading her a bedtime story.
“Tell me more, Mama,” she urged. “Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross? Why would people want to hurt Him? Can you tell it to me like a story?”
I sighed. It was seven-thirty in the morning, and I was barely awake as the sun lazily peeked above the eastern horizon. I wasn’t sure I was prepared for such a question from my deep thinker, but I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity.
So I prayed once again to the Holy Spirit, but I included an added plea for intercession from Our Lady and the Heavenly Hosts so I wouldn’t completely screw this up. Afterward, I took a deep breath and imagined the scene from Gethsemane to the Crucifixion. The rest of the car ride was filled with my own interpretation (for our young girls) of the beloved Passion Story.
And both of them listened more intently than they do while hearing an enchanted fairy tale.
Sarah grinned, kicked her legs, and said gleefully, “Jesus! Mama Mary!” Felicity joined in with a chuckle, “Mama, I love Jesus. He died on the Cross for me! He loves me that much!”
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t use those exact words, but somehow Felicity had gotten the essence of what I spoke. In her childlike simplicity, she heard the truth that Jesus died for her, because He loves her infinitely.
I could hardly process what happened as Felicity hopped out of the car and into school, proudly showing off her new shirt to the teacher’s assistant. Yet somehow the way she spoke the words “Jesus loves me that much” were revelatory. It was as if her confidence swelled, and she realized how genuinely unique her life was.
Right then I realized that all the grand lessons we intend to teach our children may never come to fruition in the ways we imagine. Instead, the biggest opportunities for catechesis tend to occur spontaneously and unexpectedly – much like how the Holy Spirit operates.
Lent may not unfold exactly as we – as parents – plan. We may not “measure up” to some other families who seem to be instructing their children in holiness at every moment. Yet holiness is cultivated in the ordinary ways. God uses ordinary means to reveal extraordinary truths. In a way, our very lives are sacramentals. We are visible signs of an inward reality when we seize the opportunities the Holy Spirit offers us to lead our children to their path toward sanctification.
Let’s stop striving for the top tier of holiness and instead embrace the sanctity present in our everyday lives – in the brief moments of encounter with our children, or perhaps a longer conversation that pops up out of the blue. If we are open to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our families, we will discover the Lent that God planned for us is far more fruitful than our own.
Copyright 2015 Jeannie Ewing
Image source: Pixabay.