Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 (ESV)
The old adage, “Ignorance is bliss” is chocked full of truth. It isn’t until we become aware of the world around us that life becomes complicated, which leads to diminished happiness.
Darleen and I were the happiest of children. We lived in a haven that very few can imagine. We grew up at a Catholic monastery; Daddy farmed the land owned by Christian Brothers in West Park, New York. The monastery rests on the Hudson River, with the majestic Catskill Mountains within view. If you look across the river, you can see the silhouette of the Vanderbilt Mansion standing proudly, claiming its due splendor. The farm is no longer there, as vineyards have replaced Daddy’s cornfields. Yet, it still remains one the most breath-taking places of my many memories.
Two little girls growing up amongst Catholic priests can attract much attention. We were doted on regularly and knew that we owned that place. For years, we knew that freeze pops would be stocked in the big freezer just for us. Everyone knew us and we knew everyone; our world was so very small, and we were so very big.
Since our haven was safe, we had the run of the place at very young ages. Many days, Mommy would inquire, “Where have you two been?”
“Playing with the Baby Jesus.”
My mother had no idea what that meant for quite some time. She probably thought we were, as usual, absorbed in our own imaginative world. In reality, we honestly had been playing with the Baby Jesus. On the road between our farm and the big house where the brothers stayed was a little cemetery. Darleen and I had found the cemetery a quiet and delightful place to play. The large, life-like statues became our friends, and we visited them frequently. One was the mother Mary holding her little, innocent baby. We knew that He was Jesus. Another statue was Jesus as a grown man. He looked scary, maybe battered and scarred. We weren’t afraid, however. We would sit in the lap of the stone image, talk with him, and include him in our play.
Is it any wonder that I had no trouble believing in God? He has been real to me for as long as I can remember. My concept of Jesus was one of kinship. To my sister and me, these statues represented safety and security—they were our friends.
My mother never questioned our friendship with the Baby Jesus. What mother would fear play that included such innocence? Baby Jesus was safely held in the arms of his loving mother, and we adored them both. As we romped around, laughing and giggling as little girls do, I feel certain that we, at that very point in time, represented exactly what the Lord Jesus represented- not just as a baby, but throughout his short life here on earth. Innocence. Unlike Him, we were sinners even then—but we were unaware of our sinful nature. We lived blissfully in our ignorance.
As we grew, we realized that a bigger, harsher world existed. We were drawn to that world, and the innocence that we once had known quickly vanished. I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” who is forced to see the world as it really is. “I’ve lost my Faith!” he exclaimed in extreme anguish.
Darleen and I also were eventually faced with the big world outside of our pastoral haven. The world around us overflowed with hurts and evil. We lost our innocence—but maybe we didn’t have to lose our faith.
That’s why the other statue was displayed. Christ, beaten, battered and scarred was our other friend. He suffered because He knew that one day our world would get bigger and we would become smaller. He knew that we would one day be faced with our sin; He knew that we needed a Savior. Our little Baby Jesus had been born innocent, lived an innocent life so that we could be held in the arms of our battered and beaten Savior. I wonder how much joy it gave God to watch two little girls adore His Son—even before they were able to understand who He was. Life may no longer be about happiness, but about joy in Him. What a Friend He is!
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