What do you see behind Mary's eyes?

Every time I see a nativity painting, I notice Mary’s eyes. Historically, painters consistently capture the part of Mary’s spirit that resembles a sort of sadness.


Look closely. Look beyond the heavenly glow, the surprisingly docile stable animals, the adoring husband, and the star above, and notice the hint of melancholy in Mary’s eyes.

Do you see it?

Odd, I know, but I see it.

I wonder what is she thinking?

Of course, many things intrigue me with nativity paintings:

Why is everything so clean? How is the barn so well-lit? How can Mary already be back to her pre-pregnancy weight?

But Mary’s thoughts fascinate me most.

The painters don’t explain themselves and the Bible tells us Mary “ponders” miracles in her heart. So here’s how I project into Mary’s tired, teenaged brain as she does the new mother “stare at your baby for hours” thing.

I think Mary was wrestling with the knowledge that her baby Jesus was not hers.

With all due respect to the famous song, “Mary Did You Know?” I believe Mary DID know what Jesus had come to do.

Remember, an angel showed up one night her and TOLD her the plan. She wouldn’t likely forget that visit!

Mary knew Jesus came not merely AS her child but FOR her and the rest of humanity. Jesus was sent with a mission and although he would bring Mary much joy, that wasn’t the primary reason for his existence.

Nope. Mary knew the plan.

She didn’t own Jesus. He was not hers. She was the one the Heavenly Father chose as a steward of Jesus' upbringing.  She was not his owner.

She was in charge of feeding, nurturing, loving, and ultimately letting go of her son. Jesus was in charge of pouring out his life for the sake of paying the debt of sin that mankind could not pay.

As the Messiah, his would be a journey of hurt and loss. But then again, so would Mary’s. Her job as the mom was to hold Jesus with open hands.

And that’s why Mary looks so pensive to me; she knows her role is limited, that she’s neither in charge nor in control of Jesus' fate.  Mary had to forget her plans and dreams for her child and let go of the idea that Jesus was there for her pleasure or pride. To staunchly hold onto her agenda would have been a liability.

And that’s where I relate to Mary. I know I should consider my kids the same way she had to look on Jesus.

Of course, I can’t relate to the whole “I was visited by heavenly hosts and told my child will be the Savior of the world” thing, but I do connect with her struggle otherwise.

You see, many days, I slip into thinking my kids are mine, as though they were created FOR my pleasure, pride, or personal agenda. This line of thinking is a liability for me.

I want to remember that God has given me children to parent as steward of their lives, but not as their owner.

My job is to feed, nurture, love, and ultimately launch them into their own adult lives.

I am responsible to lead, but not dictate; to protect, but not insulate; to love, but not smother; to discipline, but not discourage.

While I should hold their hands in support, I shouldn’t grasp possessively.

Someday my kids will pack their stuff and head off to Wherever University and into a life distinct from mine. I need to practice for that day now. In fact, while I’m at it, I should also practice for the other independence days: prom night, graduation day, job-interview day, engagement, wedding, parenting.

Oh my!

My prayer (and struggle) is to keep those times in mind and hold loosely to my expectations.

I want to remember Mary's perspective in moments when stewarding (aka “parenting”) my kids well doesn’t quite fit my plans. I want to remember my kids aren’t some type of accessory here to “bling” up my life. I need to manage this tension when they interrupt an important phone call, yell up from the basement to “bring a lot of paper towels,” tell me at 10 pm about a costume for school the next day, or engage in the 243rd battle round with a sibling.

Clearly, God didn’t create the miracle of life so I could get my way. He wants me to depend on Him with the same desperation and perspective Mary did. This means loving when circumstances are hard and leading even when the situation is challenging.

I need to remember Mary’s eyes year-round.

Not only do I want Mary’s wide-open heart, I want her wide-open hands.