Monday, September 19, 2011

Praying With Joseph

I grew up in Massachusetts, where the Catholic-Protestant tension is the thickest you’ll find outside of Ireland. My parents’ view was that we were all Christians, but it doesn’t matter. It’s in the water. And more importantly, on the playgrounds. So I grew up knowing that I was Protestant Not Catholic, and that meant that We Do Not Pray To Saints.

But things have changed, and I am learning to learn from other faith traditions instead of competing with them. So a few times this summer, I found myself praying to, or maybe with, or at least about, Joseph.

Joseph is not technically the patron saint of stepparents. Technically, those are Saints Adelaide, Leopold the Good, and Thomas More. But I’m Protestant, and this saints thing is new to me, and Joseph is familiar. So Joseph it is.

There are some crucial differences between being a garden-variety stepmother and being the “earthly father” of Jesus Christ. Also, I realize that as a non-custodial stepparent, my role is much more limited than that of Joseph or any other parent who lives with their kid. But this summer I spent a month stepmomming fulltime, and not to say that my stepson is Jesus or anything (although he is amazing), but I feel an affinity with Joseph. We’ve had some similar experiences. We deal with some of the same issues.

Joseph knows what it’s like to field the curious stares, awkward questions, and rude comments that come with being a 26-year-old stepmom. People assume I’m my stepson’s nanny, or his aunt, or his older sister. They ask probing questions about my spouse. They warmly assert their approval: “This is my stepson.” “Oh! Okay!!!!!” Joseph gets it. He probably caught a fair bit side-eye around Nazareth.

Joseph understands that becoming a step-parent happens in stages – first, you start dating someone, and he tells you that he has a child; or you’re engaged to someone, but she gets pregnant so you figure you’ll break it off, but an angel appears to you in a dream and tells you not to. (Either way, really.) It gets serious when you’re on the altar, making vows with your spouse to the sweetest little boy in his miniature tuxedo; or, perhaps, when you are searching around the stable for some swaddling cloths and a place to lay a newborn. But it doesn’t feel really real for real until you’re fleeing to Egypt to escape a bloodthirsty, power-hungry king. Which, now that I think of it, makes the requests for peanut butter toast at six in the morning and the fortieth viewing of How to Train Your Dragon seem like somewhat less of a big deal.

One day I brought my stepson with me to the church’s sandwich ministry. He wasn’t sure he wanted to come – he had never done anything like that before. He had a lot of questions about homelessness and poor people. We talked about Jesus, and what he had to say about feeding people. My stepson said he would try. He was shy and reserved as we both got to work. But eventually I noticed that he was introducing himself around, handing out bag lunches, pouring cups of water, and explaining, “I’m here with my stepmom.” When I heard those words, my heart filled with pride and gratitude, and my eyes welled with tears, and Joseph smiled with me.

Dear God, I’m not sure exactly how this saint thing works, but please tell Joseph thank you. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment