And A Sword Will Pierce Your Soul
I closed my eyes, trying to recall the weeks leading up to my son’s baptism so many years ago. I had just read the scripture passage about the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple (Luke 1:22-38). Sitting in quiet prayer, I tried to relate this occasion to something in my own life, hoping it would somehow help me enter the scene so I could experience the events alongside the Holy Family.
The planning. The anticipation. The excitement…
What should he wear – An heirloom garment? Something new?
Who should I invite? What will I serve afterwards?
What will I wear? Do my clothes even fit?!
What if he needs to nurse during the ceremony?
The day finally arrived. Somehow, even though I didn’t yet KNOW Jesus (not really; not like I do now), I still recognized that I must have my son baptized. Despite the fact that I didn’t yet realize the full significance or appreciate the full beauty of the ceremony, regardless that I didn’t yet understand that my baby was actually God’s child, and even amidst my stress and misguided focus on planning and clothing, I listened to the words spoken by the priest and I tasted … love. At my core, I knew this ceremony, this sacrament, this baptism – it was “right.”
I thought of Mary, a new mom bringing her baby to the temple for His presentation. I wondered if she experienced any of these same feelings or concerns. But we’re only told from scripture that both she and Joseph were filled with wonder as they listened to the words spoken about their son by Simeon, the righteous man. They listened as he prophesized that their son was the salvation. A light for revelation. The glory of the people. And in that beautiful moment Simeon then blessed the Holy Family and spoke words to Mary that stopped me in my tracks:
“This child is destined to cause
the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
And a sword will pierce your own soul too????
My heart instantly screamed out to and for Mary.
WAIT!! This is supposed to be a beautiful day! A ceremony centered on the new baby you’re cradling in your arms. The One whose cry makes your heart ache. The One to whom you whisper sweet prayers while nursing to sleep.
WHY?! Why in the middle of this are there words that foretell the soul-piercing grief you’ll one day experience?
I was unable to read any further, filled with distraction each time I attempted. And as God pulled me back to this verse over and over, sending it through my mind like a broken record for days, my heart began to swell. It filled with sorrow and broke for this young, new mother.
Oh Mary, how did you go on?
Were you fearful?
Did you long for more details so you could somehow “prepare” for what was ahead?
As years passed, did the words haunt you, creeping back to steal the joy of the present moment?
Or was your trust for the Lord so great that you once again offered your fiat, whispering “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
With that foreboding statement still weighing on my mind and sorrow for Mary still heavy on my heart, I reflected on the suffering of my own life and that of those around me. Unable to find any other meaning in this verse, I eventually concluded that God simply wanted to remind me that no one escapes sorrow, grief, and pain. It’s unfortunately a part of our fallen world that not even the mother of Jesus could avoid. I attempted to find comfort that God is present IN the pain and slowly forced myself to move on - even though my mind was still unsettled and my heart was still heavy.
Several weeks later, while talking with my spiritual director, I mentioned the way this verse captured my focus along with the conclusion I had drawn. I went on to relay a recent event from my own life that had been particularly upsetting, all while attempting to find consolation in the knowledge that everyone suffers. In response, she quietly suggested an alternative explanation: Perhaps my intense sorrow for Mary was another example of God allowing me to glimpse His own heart.
Sitting with this in prayer, I wondered … Could my heartbreaking sorrow for Mary actually be FROM God? Had God again allowed me to experience a sliver of His own heartache for His children? The heartache He feels when He witnesses our suffering? The heartache He feels FOR ME, when He witnesses MY suffering.
I then heard His loving voice whisper into my heart:
Jen, the suffering, and pain, and grief of this world were NEVER part of My plan. But I do see it. I see ALL of it. And it breaks my heart because I know the world I designed for you. A world of beauty. Of love. Of peace. Of joy. A world where heartache and pain simply do not exist. And more than anything I desire to share THIS world with you. MY world. In fact, this desire is THE REASON I sent My son to you - to rescue you.
Tears filled my eyes and my heart felt as if it would burst. Allowing this truth to wash over me, I experienced the intense love of God in a near tangible way. A love that drove Him to send His own infant son here to earth, creating a path for me to then travel home to Him ... A Son who not only shows me the way, but also walks the path alongside me ... And a Son who WAS NOT spared the soul-piercing pain of this world, as His own heart was quite literally pierced with a sword as He hung on the cross.
No, God. You were not simply reminding me of the commonality of suffering, although there is truth in that lesson. Rather, You highlighted Mary’s suffering for me in a way that once again allowed me see Your own heart, as I tasted Your sorrow, and experienced the immense love You have for Your children.
I pray now that this knowledge will help me - and you - to shift our focus when we experience suffering. That we will more easily and more quickly look TO Him, INVITE Him in, and CLING to Him as we encounter the soul-piercing events of this world. And, just as in human relations, where trauma can serve as a force that binds two people together in an inexplicable fashion, I pray the same will be said for our relationships with the Lord. That by walking the painful roads WITH Him, we will find ourselves bound more tightly TO Him, in a beautiful and never-ending embrace.
And as always, I’m praying God breathes life into these words.
(blessed by these words? feel free to share, so you can bless others.)