Baby Jesus and Lent’s Refining

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It may be Lent, but I’m thinking about the baby Jesus, thanks to a picture of a friend’s grandson, Owen, asleep in his mother’s arms. God, who arrived on earth as a baby, is inviting me to be like a baby this Lent and ponder God’s care for me.

Babies are so instantly lovable, vulnerable, trusting, and in Jesus’ case, totally not what the Jews expected in a savior. In a passage we hear on the feast of Jesus’ Presentation, Malachi writes, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi….” (3:2–3)

I bet Malachi never expected the Refiner to show up at the temple as a baby.

God allows people to be fine-tuned throughout life, and this process also happened to Jesus. He modeled this refining every step of his young life: he was born in a stable far from home, rushed to a foreign country to avoid a treacherous king who killed babies, and then moved back to Israel, where dangers still lurked, so he was settled in Nazareth, where he was raised in a humble home.

Owen’s photo made me think that the refining to prepare us for heaven has already begun, through whatever we are going through from birth on, in our bodies, families, neighborhoods, and the global community. Like a baby, I need not fear the Savior’s arrival in the temple of my heart.

If I behaved like a baby, I’d be resting undisturbed in loving arms instead of feeling scared and maybe depressed by the broken world around me.

Oh, yes, babies cry when hungry or tired, as do I. In Lent I whine as I attempt self-refinements through fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and service. But life is refining me despite my efforts to control it. I need to rest in my Abba’s arms. God slips into my heart gently, like a darling infant a parent can’t help loving. Can I rest like a small child amid chaos? Jesus did.

I rely on God the incarnate—a baby—to accept with humility the fuller’s lye. It’s shocking. It’s mysterious. It’s unexplainable.

I look at Owen and wonder about his unpredictable future. Like every human, he will be tempered like steel.

What I endure prepares me for heaven, refining my heart to approach this world’s nightmarish realities with equanimity. Throughout Jesus’ life he witnessed the pain of struggling people. He didn’t fix everything nor leave the world in perfect condition. He accepted the metal worker’s hammer from infancy.

Malachi’s refining furnace is life’s inevitable experiences: in pains of aging, in overwhelming sorrow when a best friend dies, and in witnessing evil that we cannot overcome. The launderer’s bleach works slowly, even gently, through trials. The infant God infiltrates my heart with simplicity and courage-giving love. And Lent prepares me to receive a vulnerable God, whose immeasurable love bends over backwards to forgive, even if I fail in all my Lenten attempts to pray more, give more, fast better, and abstain better.

And this consoles me.

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Loretta Pehanich
Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote and everyone’s response to it. We should be more like a baby resting in God’s arms and not worrying about everything. Rosemarie Roth

  2. Loretta, this is just what I needed. I’m finding keeping up with my Lenten intentions difficult as there are many things I am struggling with. Thank you for suggesting “to be like a baby this Lent and ponder God’s care for me”, to simply rest in His presence and let Him hold me. Thank you and God bless you in your own journey through Lent and Easter.

  3. Thank you Loretta for deepening my faith with this insightful reflection. The phrase that struck a cord with me is “God allows people to be fine-tuned throughout life, and this process also happened to Jesus” brought me some consolation, because I’m always asking myself: am I doing enough??? Thank you for speaking to my heart today. Blessings!

  4. Thank you for this excellent devotional. Your words echo truth about today’s struggles enlightened by the scripture passage you chose. God bless you as you write from your heart, guided by the Holy Spirit.

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