Again? Yes, again. Three years ago (liturgical cycles!) the phrase that struck me on Ash Wednesday was “rend your heart” from the prophet Joel. Here we are, three years later, and the same phrase is grabbing my heart, though in an entirely different way.
I sat in Ash Wednesday Mass, the Mass in which nearly every family with small children attended. I was surrounded by infants, toddlers and little ones. As I listened to the readings, rubbing my pregnant belly all the while, my heart was moved by the simple phrase “rend your heart.” Certainly motherhood is going to rend my heart. I listened to the readings and watched these mothers and fathers wrangle their kids and teach them about what was happening and not to smudge the ashes on our foreheads. It was beautiful to see them sacrifice for their children, to, in effect, rend their hearts.
As Mass progressed I kept coming back to that same phrase. Rend your heart. Rending our garments – a merely outward, physical sign – isn’t enough. We must also rend our hearts. So it is with pregnancy. Rending my body (which my seem like an exaggeration, but at 8 months pregnant, I’m going with it) – merely an outward, physical sign – isn’t enough. We pregnant women, we mothers are called to rend our hearts for our children. Goodness only knows how many times our hearts will be torn open by our children. I think of the times my little one has the hiccups and starts kicking like crazy. I comfort her as best I can, but until the hiccups stop, she simply isn’t calm. It breaks my heart to not be able to comfort her or to explain that everything will be okay. I know that feeling will only increase over the course of her life.
Rend your heart.
In my vocation as wife and mother, God allows me to glimpse how He loves. He rends His heart open for us – quite literally in His Son on the cross – and He asks the same of us. It may not be easy (indeed, it won’t be if the crucifixion is any indication of what is in store for us), but we are called to it nonetheless. Called to rend our garments, but also to rend our hearts. To be physically open to wherever He leads us, but also to be open in our hearts – the place so many of us struggle to be open. The pain of childbirth – or so I imagine – will be nothing compared to the pain of seeing my child hurting, of holding her when her heart gets broken, or of sitting with her when a family member passes. Those pains, I believe, will be worse because they involve the heart. Physical pain can be managed, but rending our hearts, being open and vulnerable? That’s an entirely different can of worms.
In Lent and in life we continue down this road of rending our hearts, of being continually opened to God and His plan. Marriage is teaching me to be open in new ways every day, and I have no doubt that motherhood (with Monkey on this side of the womb) will be no different. But the glory at the end of it all, the beauty of the resurrection, makes the rending worth it all the more.
“But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” – C.S. Lewis
The Surgeon is not yet done. Not only has Lent just begun, but we are still far from Heaven. Rend your hearts, open them to Him, and trust that the pain, miserable though it may be, serves a far greater purpose.