For much of my life, I have experienced feeling hidden and unseen. I saw people with popular platforms on social media, big careers post college, or engagement and baby announcements, and all I could think about was how known I perceived them to be and how unknown I felt. I wanted to be acknowledged; I wanted to be seen.
I was speaking to a friend who told me the story of a renowned author who accredited her success to her years as a stay-at-home mom. After many hidden years in her home, she wouldn’t have been able to write the book that made her famous without her unseen experiences in those years with her children.
Before we brought home our son, I thought I would have a lot of idle time as a new mom to pursue a new hobby or develop a side-hustle (because isn’t that what every new mom does?). As soon as he arrived, I quickly realized I would have a lot of idle time, but that it would be spent sitting still, holding my son in my arms. So much for those hobbies.
I am often tempted to feel like my idle time with my son is wasted — time I could be doing chores around the house, spending hours in person or on the phone with friends, writing letters or learning calligraphy or baking; ultimately time being seen and known and acknowledged. I’m sure that famous author felt the same way, like her talents were being wasted and unused in those years hidden away in her home.
But then I ponder those years of Jesus and Mary hidden away in history. Very few things are known or said about Jesus and the Holy Family in Scripture between the time of the Presentation in the Temple and our introduction to the adult Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, we know three of these — Jesus’s obedience, Mary’s pondering spirit and Jesus’s growth: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2: 51-52).
I imagine the Blessed Virgin sitting still and holding her son. I imagine them playing games or doing daily chores together. I imagine them serving and sacrificing for one another, making dinner, cleaning the dishes, going into town or working to provide for the family. I imagine them telling stories to one another, praying with one another, or just sitting in the quiet stillness together. For Jesus and Mary, they weren’t afraid of being unseen or hidden because they were totally known by one another. That was enough for them.
And I imagine Jesus and Mary growing, “in wisdom and age and favor,” in the simplicity of their home — teaching one another, loving one another and together bringing about the Glory of God on Earth. There was probably much idle time, but it was this idle time that facilitated the growth that the Scriptures attest to. And though we do not know the specific details of these years, we know they were what prepared Jesus for his public ministry.
To think that God would so humble himself, allowing himself to be taught by Mary and to be obedient to her and Joseph, makes me recognize that I, too, have a lot to learn in these hidden years. Yes, I am responsible for the growth in wisdom of my son, but I am also invited to a period of growth in wisdom myself. Not only that, but God wants to produce fruit in my life and the lives of others because of the years that I spent hidden, growing in grace.
Whether a stay-at-home mom, a single woman in pursuit of her vocation to holiness or a consecrated religious, we can all take note of the hidden years of Jesus and Mary. The scriptures may not mention events or specific lessons learned in this time, but they acknowledge that something miraculous was taking place that was essential for Jesus and Mary and the whole of salvation history.
When we feel like our time is being wasted or we are going through our days unseen, we can take courage knowing that it is in the hiddenness that we, too, grow in wisdom and grace. We can also remember that, even in our hiddenness, we are known most fully and completely by God, who is there with us always. By leaning into the hiddenness, God is given the room to do work in and with us for his kingdom, and all we must do is participate with him.