This post is based on Week Four of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
We had only been home for a handful of hours. We were groggy and grumpy and anxious. And we were expecting a call from the doctor.
Ding-dong. The doorbell.
“How are you guys doing?” One of our best friends was at the door, carrying a Tupperware container packed to the brim with food. “Have you gotten any sleep?” Her own kids were out in the SUV, parked in front of our home, the hazard lights blinking.
The answer, of course, was a resounding No. Not only was our days-old daughter still shiny and new—and consequently unfamiliar with the regular sleep patterns of a human person—but she was also struggling to shake off the orange hue of her jaundiced skin.
We’d earned ourselves bonus nights in the hospital after her birth—and she, bonus hours under a de-jaundicing blue light—and had spent every other night of the following week in and out of the emergency room and pediatrician’s office. We were desperate for someone to give her a clean bill of health and assure us we had no more forthcoming overnights in the hospital, at least for the immediate future.
Ring-ring. The phone.
Our friend reached for our sleeping infant as my wife answered her cell. I held my breath, waiting.
Alli shook her head, and I knew we were heading back to the ER for another round of tests. My poor daughter would get another series of pricks to her heal, and we would watch helplessly as her blood was zapped away to the lab.
“I’m so sorry, guys. This is so hard.”
There are few things I remember definitively about those blurry, back-and-forth days of early parenting. But the image of our friend standing in our living room is clear. There was nothing she said or did that changed our circumstances (What could she have done?), but her presence made a lasting impression.
She was there; she was with us.
In the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to witness the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, and to accompany Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi, through the infancy narratives.
Sometimes, though, we come to these well-known, well-worn Scripture passages and too quickly pass by them. I know this old story, the thinking goes.
But St. Ignatius invites us to use our imaginations as a way to sink deeper into the story. We’re not just reading; we’re there with the Holy Family.
And once we make that transition, everything changes. We find ourselves present to the needs of a newborn, hungry and sleepy and cute. We find ourselves present to his parents, groggy and grumpy and anxious.
And we find ourselves, perhaps, helpless, knowing the struggles of parenting, of accompanying young people, and of muddling through daily life.
And yet, all we need to do in that moment is simply stand in the presence of the Holy Family and ask, “How are you guys doing? I know this is so hard.”
And then, listen for their response, trusting that our presence is enough.