So often when you see a nativity scene you find Mary with her hands folded in prayer, like this:
I figure the artists and model-makers present Mary that way because... well.. they have to do something with her hands. Joseph often has a shepherd's crook, a shepherd is holding a sheep, and the wise men (which shouldn't actually be in a manger scene anyway) are holding gifts. Mary is empty handed, and folding them in prayer looks less awkward than wringing them in worry.
Of course, I know our little drawings and figurines aren't actual depictions of what that night in Bethlehem really looked like.
But still, it has bothered me. Why would Mary be praying to her newborn son, even if he was the Son of God?
Then one day I saw those praying hands in a whole new way. What if Mary wasn't praying to Jesus, but over him? For him?
Motherhood is challenging enough in any circumstances, but can you imagine the responsibility of knowing you are raising up God's Son? The Savior of all mankind? What did Mary imagine in Jesus' future as she watched him sleeping in the manger? Surely she couldn't have imagined the way he would be rejected and killed.
Even so, I look at my own children sleeping in their beds and think of the weighty responsibilities and pressures of motherhood. I wonder about what their futures hold, and I pray. For them. For me.
So now when I see Mary kneeling at the manger, hands folded in prayer, I am reminded to bend my knees and my heart and pray for my own little ones.