“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
Being a parent means staying awake. Pacing the halls with a colicky newborn. Watching over the crib of a feverish toddler. Comforting a child after nightmares. Listening to the giggles of basement sleepovers. Quizzing the student the night before exams. Waiting anxiously for the teenager’s return at curfew.
No one ever got into the parenting gig to get more sleep. But wiser parents assure me the sacrifice is worth it. Our watchfulness bears witness to their wondrous growth. Before our very (bleary, heavy, drooping) eyes, tiny babies become grown adults. Their needs and wants, desires and demands call on us to stay awake. Caffeine becomes our common cup.
But the watchfulness of parenting has a terrifying side, too. We watch them fall, get sick, lose friends, break hearts, fail tests, hurt themselves. Tragedies happen from which we are helpless to protect them. We know neither the day nor the hour, but somewhere along the line our children will know pain and suffering deeper than we ever fear.
Yet the fear can’t paralyze us. We have to do our best to care for children and protect them, while knowing that life – and death – is beyond our control. We hope, trust, pray. The core of love, and faith.
Jesus weaves a parable of watchfulness: women prepared and unprepared to meet an honored guest. When he finally arrives, at an hour none had guessed, some are ready and some are not. So the wise get to feast while the fools have to wander.
And what seems like a harsh story of lines drawn between in and out, us and them, good and bad, is really a wry reminder that the unprepared can get caught up and miss the mark. When the important moments happen, when the bridegroom arrives, when the day of judgment comes, those who were wakeful and watchful are not surprised. Those who were delayed or distracted are dismayed.
In the upside-down world of parables, it’s always worth noticing what Jesus does not say. He doesn’t say that the wise virgins who stocked their lamps with oil knew the precise time of the bridegroom’s arrival. They weren’t smarter or more connected or more intuitive than the others. They simply planned to watch and wait well.
Likewise, the wise parent does not know what will befall or befuddle their child ahead of time. They just know they must stay watchful and wakeful – to witness joys as well as falls, delights as well as despairs. All they can do is plan best they can, watch and pray. Hope, but not hover.
The vigils parents keep are holy hours. Witnessing the unfolding of a personality, an imagination, a maturity is a powerful – and sometimes painful – process. We have to stay awake to know how we’re called to respond.
What are you waiting for as a parent? What are you watching for? What keeps you awake?
parenting and Scripture is a new weekly series designed to give parents of young children a chance to reflect on the Sunday readings outside of Mass (often a three-ring-circus-of-Cheerios-and-cry-rooms). Something to chew on as we’re chasing the little ones and wondering, “Did I even hear the readings today?” Or something to muse over after we’ve put the babies to bed.