Stop for a moment and think of Mary. What image of her comes to mind?
Maybe you think of a young mother holding a baby, like we see in countless paintings of the Madonna and Child. Or maybe you think of a youthful, beautiful woman standing with arms outstretched, the image of Mary that we see in churches and gardens.
I love these depictions of Mary as a young woman. They’ve done a lot to enrich my faith over the years.
But as a forty-five-year-old woman, I’d love to give equal time to the older, more mature Mary. The woman with wrinkles and graying hair. I’d love to celebrate the middle-aged Mary, the Mary with a Child who is no longer an infant or toddler.
Because that Mary has a lot to teach us: about motherhood, about letting go, and about change.
Mother of Older Children
I’m the mother of two boys, ages nine and eleven. For many years, I could look at images of Mary holding the Baby Jesus and feel a bond. I too had a child I held in my arms and on my lap; I was in the same stage of motherhood that Mary was.
But now I’m in a new phase of parenthood. With my older son in particular, life is about navigating the challenges of a child who is gradually becoming independent. It’s about figuring how much freedom to give him. Can I let him walk to the bathroom alone in the airport, or should I follow? Can I trust him to pack school lunch for himself?
He’s also starting to have experiences I don’t share. Recently, he and his fifth grade class went away for five days of Outdoor Education, living in cabins and hiking and learning about the environment. The week was far more emotionally taxing for me than I expected because it marked a kind of separation that was new to me. I would not be there to tell him to change his wet socks. I would not be there to protect him from anything–poison oak, homesickness–that might threaten his well-being.
Mary at Middle Age
The teenage Mary holding a baby isn’t the Mary for that kind of experience. The middle-aged Mary is. She knew what it is like to have a child going out in the world where a mom cannot follow. This happened first with the Finding in the Temple, but it happened in a bigger way when she watched her adult Son go off in the world and start His ministry. I suspect that she had no small amount of anxiety as she saw Him out there preaching to the crowds. After all, He was challenging the status quo, calling out hypocrisy. That tends to create enemies. Perhaps some secret part of her wished He would stay quietly at home and be a carpenter rather than speak the truth that would get Him on the wrong side of powerful men.
But she had to figure out how to navigate that worry. She had to remind herself that He was doing what He was called to do. She had to let go in a way that is hard for all moms everywhere, I believe.
And whatever our own middle-aged parenting challenge–the child at sleepover camp, the college student going off to study abroad, the young adult entering the military or doing any kind of work that we fear will put them in harm’s way–Mary has been there, too. She understands the worry that puts lines on our facse and keeps us awake at night. And she is always ready to pray for us as we face it.
Life in the Second Half
After her Son’s death, Mary’s life entered a new phase. We know that she was taken in by the beloved Apostle, starting a new life with a new family unit. We know that she–somehow, sometime–had the joy of meeting her resurrected Son. And we know that she was with the Apostles in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost.
And in those first days of the early Church, after the descent of the Spirit, Mary played a pretty vital role. She was the person who knew Jesus best. She could tell the stories of Him in His younger years, stories that even His closest friends would not have known. She was able to inspire His followers with her insights and memories.
I love picturing a group of younger men and women gathered around a gray-haired, middle-aged mother, listening raptly to her stories. I love thinking about what this represents for Mary, too. Her role in life has shifted. She’s no longer raising her own Child, no longer focused on parenting. She’s in a new phase of life: meeting people, connecting with others she would not have encountered before, and inspiring them with the knowledge she has and the wisdom she’s gained.
Leaning on Our Lady in Middle Age
In that way, her experiences dovetail with our own as we age. Even though there are a few things I really dislike about middle age–the slowing metabolism, the wacky cycles–I’m finding that it’s actually a rich time. Yes, I’m still involved in the daily work of parenting, in a way that Mary was not at my age (she got a slightly earlier start on motherhood than I did). Like her, though, I feel that I’m on the cusp of some sort of change. When I think of the years ahead, I don’t see a gradual petering out of energy. I see opportunities, even if they are currently vague and unformed.
And I can’t help but feel that I’m more well-equipped than ever to seize and enjoy those opportunities. After decades of life I have a stronger sense of what really matters, and of my own personal strengths and weaknesses. All that makes me feel confident that, looking at the blank slate of middle-age and beyond, there are still good things in store for me. Like Mary, I’ll be called to use my experiences to do the work of God, in some ways that I can barely begin to imagine right now. And I like knowing that she–who knows all about love, loss, letting go, and change–can show us how to do it with grace and faith.
Our Lady of Middle Age, pray for us.
Any middle-aged mamas out there? How are you looking to Our Lady during this time of transition?
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Ginny Kubitz Moyer is an author, high school teacher, and mother living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her latest book is Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses. You can find out more about her here.