Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
When I became a parent, I realized that I was both a child and a parent. This became a fundamental example for me of how a paradox may be understood, a conflict harmonized. Over time and by the grace of God, we learn that opposing views and even opposing realities can exist. There is no need to take sides – though at times we do and that is often as it should be, for we must make no peace with oppression.
I have learned many things from my child, who is now a young man, and from the act of parenting. I have not yet discovered how to not worry, but I maintain an active practice to recognize that we are not the same person – that his ways, though different from mine, are not wrong – and neither of us need conform.
God has more than once answered my desperate prayers for the wisdom to think from my son’s perspective. When Robby was eight years old we went together to IKEA. At one point I realized he was no longer by my side. I looked everywhere and could not find him. I asked crew members for help, but they would only page him, which I knew would be useless as he was unlikely to listen for that. There was a dark moment – right before praying – that I nearly resigned myself that I no longer had a son. Then my anxiety was calmed with the wisdom that I must think like him: what would he do if we were separated. I rushed to the food court and found him waiting patiently, unafraid, as he knew I would look for him there.
Every child is remarkable in the eyes of their parent and of God. But I think of Mary and Joseph and imagine the array of challenges they must have faced as the human parents of Jesus. How hard must it have been to let him fulfill his destiny. How many times must they have felt “they did not understand what he said to them.” How often must they have wished he could be just a “regular” human child. How many prayers for the fortitude to let go of attempts to control, and instead to treasure all these things in their hearts. Jesus always knew — with his whole mind, body, and spirit — that he would live in his Father’s house. For us he nurtured the paradox of being at once father and son, parent and child.