I spoke with my friend, Fr. Tim, about a difficult parenting day I had earlier in the week. More than any sort of misbehaving from my children, I felt in a fog—distracted, uneasy, and weighed down by whispers of inadequacy.
Fr. Tim listened, affirmed, and offered me this counsel: “You know, parenting doesn’t have to be a drudgery. Because you are doing it for Jesus.”
While the ego-filled part of me wanted to push back—sometimes parenting does feel like drudgery!—the deeper part of me listened. Those words of truth—you are doing it for Jesus—cut through interior darkness I had been facing in parenting, and brought me into a space of light that I am still discovering.
Of course I’d heard it and read it before—“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matt 25:40). But Fr. Tim said these words in a way that entered right into the heart of my life as a mother. What I do for my children, I do for Jesus.
This reality continues to unfold for me in two primary ways: the first is that my works can be an offering for Jesus. The second pertains to the mystery of truly serving Jesus by serving another member of the Mystical Body of Christ.
To the first—there are many mundane things parents do each day that are not fun or glamorous in any way, shape, or form. Cleaning up spit up—stinky. Wiping a dirty behind—even stinkier. Laundry—never ending. Spills and food on the floor—back bending and breaking. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always want to do these things. Sometimes I am just tired, and the tasks seem too ordinary to matter.
But, when I do these things for Jesus, they change and I change. My work becomes a sacrifice of love for my Savior. I don’t want to do this Jesus, but I will do it for you. I know you accept this act of love as a worthy sacrifice. There is a shift—I think it’s called grace.
To the second—what I do for my children, I do for Jesus. My daughter calls out from the bathroom, “Mama, can you help me wipe my bottom?” And, in all honesty, I just want to finish my cup of coffee and bowl of granola when they are the temperatures at which I want them to be. But, I stand up and care for the basic need of my daughter, finding peace in the fact that when I care for her needs, I care for Jesus.
It’s a mystery that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around, but Jesus tells us this is how it works—“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matt 25:40). And again: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love…This is my commandment: love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:10, 12).
As parents, we daily live the works of mercy as we care for our children. We care for their most essential needs of hunger, thirst, being clothed, being sheltered. We also care for their spiritual, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing as we console, instruct, comfort, and teach the virtuous life in our homes.
Scripture, Tradition, and the holy men and women the Holy Spirit continues to move through give us keys to both joy in this life and inklings of eternal life. When we listen to stories, wipe dirty behinds, clean up Cheerios, and do the dishes for Jesus, these ordinary tasks change, and we are changed by the One we love.
A bit of the mystery is opened up, and we sense the wondrous truth in G.K. Chesterton’s words: “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” When they are seeking to love each other for Jesus? Yes, indeed.