[Today, our second child is about two and a half weeks old. We’re still in the bustle of excitement that a new baby brings. And Hazel, whom I wrote about below, is now almost two years old. This is something I wrote when she was just two weeks old but never posted. It seems fitting, even now, to remember these lessons I’ve learned and re-learned in these two years.]
This post is not about parenthood.
I’ve been a mom for two weeks and I’m under no illusions that I have wisdom to offer on the subject.
This post is about childhood.
The day my daughter was born, I had no idea (like any other first time mom) what kind of exhaustion lay just hours away. I had no idea how loud my daughter would be able to scream once we returned home from the hospital or how soon I’d be irrationally irritable when she was inconsolable in the middle of the night. I didn’t know a lot of things, and I still don’t. I don’t know what color her eyes will be. I don’t know what her laugh will sound like. I don’t know when she’ll be able to say her daddy’s name and thereby get whatever she wants for the rest of time. What I do know, however, is that our Maker has left remarkable fingerprints on the whole process. And each baby step I take becoming a parent leaves me marveling at how big and tough and durable our God’s love is.
While I expected labor to be hard, I also naively expected an immediate BFF situation with my child. I thought she’d come out of the womb being able to react to and smile at me; I expected her to like my lullabies; I was hoping she’d already prefer Mommy to any other warm body. But that’s not the case most of the time.
Hazel has no concept of the depth of my thoughts or feelings towards her. She doesn’t know to thank Caleb for waking up several times a night to change her diaper. She has no way to acknowledge that she has changed our lives forever and that she will most definitely cause us worry and pride and heartache throughout her time on earth. Yet we are called to sacrifice for her. Daily. Moment by moment. We are called to love her patiently, sweetly, enduringly, for her whole life. By resting in Christ’s strength. By pouring out the love that comes from Him. She may turn out to be a horribly fussy baby. She may turn out to be a horribly obstinate toddler. She may turn out to be a horribly unruly child or a horribly rebellious teenager or a horribly hard-hearted adult who never wants to see us. But Caleb and I are called to be there, still. Loving her. Praying for her. Pointing her to the love of Jesus. We are called to the painful, slow-moving, mundane ‘long game’ of loving her. And while it’s true that one day we may look at each other and say “it seems like only yesterday…” today it still feels like one long, confusing day at a time, trying to figure out how to provide for her every need.
This is amazing to me because it reveals the heart of our Father. He wouldn’t call us to parent that way if He didn’t parent that way. By His design, a new life demands love. It requires sacrifice. We see in the messiness and helplessness of childhood that our God is not faint-hearted. This All-Knowing Creator designed poop and crying and oddly thick infant body hair and child labor and breastfeeding and tiny infant stomachs that need to eat every few hours and all of the other helpless, needy facets of childhood that will come as our child grows. These things teach us about Him.
He’s not afraid of my weakness. He’s not surprised by my frailty. He’s not even shocked when I fight Him as He tries to take care of me.
His love is tough. But also, the mess points us to His glory. He is patient. He is kind.
He also offers provision and miraculous durability within this weird and wild design. I didn’t do anything to grow a human inside my body. He did it. Her little eyelashes and fingerprints and internal organs and rapidly developing brain and weird, bumpy gums formed without a single stitch of conscious effort from me. She was given to me. And, likewise, He gave her the ability to do things she’ll never be able to do again – but she could do them when the circumstances required it. She can’t do anything for herself, but she just casually went from breathing water to sitting in a birth canal with virtually no air or water to suddenly breathing air the moment the doctor pulled her out. That experience could kill an adult, but little babies can do it. She can hardly see, and she’d never met me, but she apparently could (and still can) instinctively differentiate between me and every other human by smell alone. I can’t smell my mom out of a crowd and I’ve known her for 26 years.
He asks much, but He gives all that we need.
The first night of Hazel’s life, after family left the hospital to get some rest, I just laid there watching her sleep, waiting for her to get hungry, watching her eat peacefully, watching her sleep again. I studied her profile. I soaked up the precious little sounds of her breathing. Her little cries didn’t even annoy me. They were perfect. Everything about it was so new, and so overwhelmingly fulfilling.
And then something happened, another glorious First. She opened her little eyes and looked right at me. I wept. Sobbed, really. Smiling through my tears like a crazy person. Through the craziness of the day and all of the sweet relatives who’d come to town to hold her, I realized that she and I had not yet looked each other in the eye. I knew that she couldn’t really see me and she didn’t really know me and she would never remember the first time she looked at me. But I was flooded with the sense that her very existence, her very need, is my ever-so-worth-it reward for loving her. The responsibility to give to her is in itself grace poured upon my life.
Hazel and I have a lot more in common as children than I have in common with God as parents.
And luckily for us, our God is a God of the long game.
I can know that He is not quick to give up on me, because I am not allowed to quickly give up on her. I can know that He is patient, because He commands my patience. I can know that He loves me even when I’m unaware, because I’m called to love her in her helplessness. In her state of constant need.
And, best of all, I can know that in Christ, God looks at me and sees His child. We who are in Christ can know that we have a Perfect Father. And like Hazel showed me that first night, maybe He really can delight to love us. Maybe we can bring joy to His heart by looking up at Him in gratitude and trusting His provision.
What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Matthew 7:9-11