Labor of Pain, Labor of Love


I grew up Catholic. Not an Easter-and-Christmas Catholic. But an every-week-we-went-to-mass-and-my-great-grandmother-taught-us-the-rosary Catholic. We were Irish, loud, played bingo, had the priest over for dinner and I just assumed that everyone else lived the same way we did. I went to Catholic schools, wore the plaid skirts and knew the Stations of the Cross before I knew the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t know it was a bad thing to be a Catholic until I went to a Christian college and was told I wasn’t really a Christian. I was told I worshipped Mary and statues and I didn’t know who Jesus really was.

You start to become silent about who you are when people start telling you who you are.

I remember as a child coming early to mass and watching the older ladies in the church quietly kneeling before the Virgin Mary. They would light candles and hold their rosary beads. I just assumed this was what you did when you passed a certain age. You wore matching pant suits, made casseroles with cornflakes on top and came early to mass to pray to Mary.

My grandmother did not grow up Catholic. She married into the church. Of course she had to become Catholic to be married, but she loved him more than herself and did whatever she needed to marry the love her life. Now, my great-grandmother, she was Catholic. I am pretty sure she was born Catholic. She prayed to all the saints and our baptisms were the most joyous days of her life. That and the church spaghetti dinners. She had statues of Mary all over her home. On her windowsill in the kitchen, next to her bed, and randomly you could find the Virgin herself staring you down. You were always being watched, so no taking an extra cookie!

I didn’t think it was shameful to be who I was, until someone told me it was.

Admittedly I walked away from the Catholic church after years of people telling me I would not find Jesus there. I was told I would never be fully Christian until I was baptized again, but this time into the evangelical church. I was told that only then, would I fully understand the voice of God.

I think when we start denying who we are for the church, we lose God altogether.

Two years ago, I lay next to my teenaged daughter as she slept. I watched her chest rise and fall, weeping that God would heal us all. She was expecting a child she did not choose and each night we prayed she would wake with the sun.

Andrew Peterson has a song on his album “Behold the Lamb of God” called Labor of Love that I listened to night after night that December, two years ago.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town
And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold
It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

The women I watched years ago kneel before the statue of Mary, clutching their rosaries in my Catholic church, were never doing anything wrong. They were teaching me. There is more to the story. They knew what it meant to lose a child. To have great suffering. To hear the cries only a mother could know.

I want to hear the voices of women who have sacrificed and suffered. The woman—a child—who carried the Son of God. She lay alone, without her mother, bloodied and torn apart, so we may one day believe.

These voices are teaching me to connect, to listen, to understand that in order to see the face of God, I must also see the face of Mary.