In December, I went to my spiritual director. Basically, a spiritual director is like a therapist, counseling you in all spiritual matters, often also telling you to do things a regular therapist would do like think about your life, your decisions, and even encourage you to take care of yourself by eating well and exercising. Spiritual directors just direct your spiritual life too. I was expecting all of general sort of advice when I went to my spiritual direction that day.
He told me, “I want you to imagine you’re holding baby Jesus.”
That’s it? I thought. Okay..That’s a bit weird, but whatever… I instantly thought of how Will Ferrell and crew prayed to baby Jesus in the comedy Talledega Nights.
So, I did my best to get that image out of my head and picture holding a baby, period. It was a pretty rosy picture that I painted of holding a baby. Baby Jesus sleeping, me smiling down at baby, Baby letting out a smile in his sleep.
Now, I’ve been around babies. My dad’s side of the family is huge, and for my whole life, there’s been a cousin or a cousin’s kid who’s under the age of 4. I’ve been around babies. I know they’re work. I know they cry. I know they poop and pee and need full attention, but I pictured my scene with baby Jesus as serenely peaceful. I mean, even as a baby, baby Jesus was God. Did he need to cry let alone poop?
The thing is, my inner self rarely feels peaceful, especially when it comes to my spiritual life. I’m frustrated a lot, figuring things out when I can, not almost always not wanting to pray or go to Mass or be particularly nice to my jerk of a co-worker or patient. A lot of it stems from the fact that I’m trying to figure out what in the world I’m called to do and be, and I don’t get much of an answer. Often, I’m left asking, “Well, why should I do that? What does it matter anyway?” Peaceful little picture did not make sense with my reality.
So, I tried to forget that advice. Then my sister had a baby, my first nephew. I’ve been around babies, but I’ve never loved a baby quite like I love my adorable nephew, Sweet Pea.
Yes, he and I share the serene, peaceful moment I picture, but it’s a fleeting moment. Sweet Pea cries, poops, pees, and eats a lot more than he smiles at me in his sleep. And, this baby makes a lot of noise in his sleep. A lot of noise. I’m slightly worried he has some sort of sleep apnea.
I’m staying with my sister to help her out, and one morning, she woke me up, saying “Take him.” My nephew was wriggling, crying, and fussy. He needed me to love him, and my sister needed me to sacrifice my sleep for her. I rolled out of bed and took him. I was barely awake, rocking Sweet Pea, and humming some little tune to soothe him. Eventually, he fell asleep, and we had our moment of peace.
I looked at him, and I thought back to my spiritual director’s advice. I tried to picture Jesus, but all I saw was my nephew. I stared at his chubby cheeks, little nose, tiny lips, and reflected prayerfully.
I thought about how he didn’t care that I was tired, half falling asleep, smelly, and more impatient than I wanted to be. He didn’t care that I had some holiday weight hanging on my hips, unwashed hair up in a haphazard bun, and no make-up on. He didn’t care. I was there, and I was doing my best to love him. That’s all he wanted.
My baby nephew doesn’t care what I’m like. All Sweet Pea wants is for me to love him. Love him by feeding him. Love him by cradling him. Love him by swaddling him. Love him by cleaning him. Just love him.I can be tired, impatient, rude, terse, angry, happy, or any other emotion. My nephew doesn’t care if I’m not perfect. All he wants is for me to love him.
I think that’s what Jesus wants. He just wants us to love him, no matter what. No matter how tired, no matter how frustrated, no matter how angry, no matter how happy. No matter how sinful, how striving, how lost, how desperate, how joyful, no matter what. He just wants us to love him as best as we can in each moment that we have with him (which would be every moment of our lives).
I always pictured Jesus as an adult. With adults, I have an air of pretense. I worry about how I look, smell, act, and feel a whole lot more. Most of the time, I will unworthy or small or somehow undeserving of adult Jesus, so I cover up my true imperfect self to try to pretend that I’m more perfect than I am. Thing is, baby Jesus, adolescent Jesus, even adult Jesus just wants us to love him, no matter what.
It’s okay that I’m not perfect. All He wants is for me to love him as I am. Nothing more, nothing less. All it requires is vulnerability, which is the courage to love.