Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” Matthew 20:20-21
Like the mother of James and John, I want to protect my babies at all costs. I want a promise, a guarantee from Jesus, that if I agree to have faith and follow Him, they will be protected and safe and healthy. As Jesus says in today’s gospel, this is not the guarantee of discipleship. As I write this, I am just over 35 weeks pregnant with a beautiful baby boy who has already been accepted and is very loved by his sisters and his brother and whole family. We have pictures drawn by the other children up on the refrigerator reflecting what they think he will look like. They want to see every ultrasound picture, feel as many kicks and hiccups as they can. Our youngest likes to tell everyone she sees – the cashier, the UPS delivery man, anyone – that Mommy has her “baby brother Nicholas James” in her tummy.
At 20 weeks, we had our “big” ultrasound. Because of my age, we went to a high-risk ob. The ultrasound showed a beautiful, mostly healthy baby boy. There were a couple concerns that warranted a follow-up ultrasound eight weeks later. We weren’t overly worried because it seemed everything was just on the outer edge of normal. Eight weeks later I reported for my follow-up. This time, his stomach was bigger than normal and warranted a diagnosis. We are still hopeful that his condition might resolve before he is born. Also, after researching, we have learned that while it does require surgery to correct most times, it is a surgery with few complications and a high success rate. We have learned that many times it is a condition that is not discovered until the baby or even child is in a medical crisis. We are blessed to know now in order to prepare and be vigilant. However, instead of being thankful, I started blaming myself. “If only I had done this…” or “if only I had NOT done that…” Somehow in my mind, this diagnosis was my fault (even though many studies show that they don’t know what causes it). Have you ever done that?
Going back to the gospel, I became like the mother of James and John, trying to bargain with the Lord. “If I stop eating this and stop doing this” and “if I start doing this every day” will you please heal our little boy? I wanted a guarantee that my faith would be enough. Doing this only dragged me away from the Lord, away from His comforting arms, because the way I was seeking the answer to my prayers was by testing the Lord. As Lent started, I continued my prayers and started different meditations, and while I was praying, I felt a spiritual dryness and lack of connection with the Lord, barely more than going through the motions of prayer. I kept telling myself I believe He will heal our son, but I couldn’t get the littler voice to stop whispering, “And if He doesn’t heal him, then what?”
I turned to my friends, both online and in real life, and I asked for prayers, for healing for our little boy and for peace and strength to accept God’s will and to know that He is with us through it all. Turning to our Lord in this way has brought the sense of peace I had been missing for so many weeks. The power of prayer is amazing!
I believe the words of the gospel that whatever we ask, God will provide if only we ask in faith. The flip side, however, is that God uses the trials we encounter in this world to smooth our rough edges, to help us become the people He created us to be, both in this life and for all of eternity. We have to learn to trust that His will, His plan for our lives is much greater than anything we can imagine. Right now, I see one of the trees, but God can see the whole forest. He assures me it is a beautiful view! All I need to do is trust in Him.
“I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24