Our family recently went on vacation in the Colorado Rockies. It was my husband and children’s first time in the Rockies and it was every bit as spectacular as they could have hoped. I visited the Rockies once, years ago, as a young teenager. For me, it was my first time in the Rockies as a parent.
This was not our first family vacation. Every couple of years, my husband’s parents rent a house somewhere across the country, and invite the whole family to come and spend a week on vacation together. For a family with young children, this is an ideal way to vacation – with the help of doting grandparents and energetic uncles.
Something I had forgotten about vacationing with young children, however, is how very limiting it is. If your children are under the age of ten (and mine are well under that age) there are a whole host of activities that they either can’t do or can only do slowly with much assistance. Adding to this difficulty was the fact that on this vacation, I forgot both my baby carrier and our more rugged stroller. If all you have is an umbrella stroller and arms willing to give piggybacks…your hiking options in the Rockies are limited.
(Before you feel too sorry for me, we had a couple volunteers offer to babysit our children one day so we could sneak out for a more intense hike. Their reward will be great in heaven.)
Every activity we attempted had to be done with the limitations of the youngest in mind. No trail could be too steep or too long for little legs. No activity could be too late at night (or during naptime, heaven forbid). Nothing too dangerous or risky or “scary” (to use the oft repeated word of our toddler).
The starkest contrast in terms of activities we (the adults) were capable of versus the activities the little ones were capable of was fishing. Early one morning, most of the adults set out to go fly-fishing in a river. On that same morning, my husband and I decided it would be fun to take the little ones in the group “normal” fishing. The results were about as hilarious as you are probably imagining. Patience waned, numerous reminders to stay out of the mud/not leave the worms in the sun/stop yelling were given. And then, before we could catch a fish, our secondhand fishing rod broke. It was alright, though, because at that point the children’s patience was spent (as was ours).
Throughout the week, I was ever mindful of how much I had to slow down and how much less I could do, because I had my precious little cargo in tow. There were so many rewarding moments, but there were also many frustrating ones (as anyone who has vacationed with young children can attest). I struggled with how much I had to limit myself, all for the sake of these little ones who I loved.
As the week went on, I found myself thinking more and more of the Incarnation. When God became man, it was a far greater condescension than giving up fly fishing or the steep trail. When the Son, second person of the Trinity, took on human nature, he became something infinitely smaller than his divine self. Yet, he freely chose to do it out of love. He slowed down to human time and development, experienced human limitations, and underwent the frustrations of being a human being.
It is the call of the Christian life to learn to love as Christ loved. It is easy – as a parent, as a spouse, as a single person – to get sucked into seeking comfort and convenience in our lives. Even the greatest, most exciting lives are filled with the mundane. It is easy to miss the opportunities for littleness in the daily grind. We are always trying to escape and run away from what is little. We are always trying to run toward what is exciting, entertaining, or prestigious. How much easier is it to bury your head in your Facebook feed in an elevator, instead of exchange a greeting with your fellow occupant? To smile at the homeless person on the corner, and pray for them, even if you have nothing else to offer them? It is uncomfortable to acknowledge the vulnerability of others, and to open ourselves up to sharing that vulnerability. It can feel tedious, or even downright scary. But each of these moments is an opportunity to love as Christ loves.
Those of us who are parents have a particularly unique opportunity to love in an Incarnational way. We are invited, day in and day out, to lower ourselves to the level of someone who is littler, weaker, and needier than ourselves. We live in a culture that is very opposed to this idea. It is this opposition to lowering ourselves that leads many people to reject or be fearful of the possibility of raising children.
And, at the heart of this, is our own selfishness. It is a side effect of original sin, this desire to put ourselves before others. Yet, in the innocent (and loud and insistent) voices of our children, we are pulled out of ourselves, again and again. We are drawn to humble ourselves, for the sake of love.
We are called to love as Christ loves – even when on vacation with a toddler. Actually, we are called to love as Christ loves especially when we’re on vacation with a toddler.
If we open ourselves up to it, these moments of inconvenience can become moments of grace. If we allow him, God will use these little moments (and these little ones) to make us into saints.