I think its fair to say that I never understood the true wonder of a human life until I had my daughter. I thought when I started this blog that I would write more about parenting than I have. I think I’ve avoided it mostly because there’s not much I can write that hasn’t been written before. Its all true. I really would jump in front of a bus for this tiny person. Its just a reality and writing about it for me would feel a lot like writing “the sky is blue” on repeat.
Something I have wanted to reflect on more closely though are the truths about human nature and our relationship to God that are revealed so perfectly by children. These realities are THE THINGS that I couldn’t let go of when I was jumping around with fear over the decision to have kids and they are THE THINGS that keep me going when I’m tired and irritable from running after a two year old most days.
It would not be a lie for me to say that most days I can share at least one moment, often more, when I feel like God whispers to me through this 21 month old little person. She’s like the tiniest God reflector there ever was. She’ll delightedly explore a playground and I feel Him say: “Look at her. I’m calling you to be like that too.” Or I’ll swoon with pride over a new skill she’s picked up and I sense Him say to me on a soul level: “I love you that way too.” Even temper tantrums have their place as I realize that I act this way with God from time to time. And while I know its a universal feeling for parents to bring forth children and realize within short order that they would die for their kids, I don’t know that its instinctual for people to realize that through our kids God is saying the same thing back to us. I’m tempted to say that its not – or we’d all be a whole lot lighter.
Two things struck me profoundly when Ellie was born. The first was that I realized in an experiential way what it meant to be made in the image of God. I realized this because he gave me a first born child who is, at the moment and since she’s been born, a practical carbon copy of myself. I know she’ll mature and change and take on different interests and skills than I have but at the moment, raising her feels like raising an earlier version of myself with my husband’s delightfully long eyelashes.
The second thing I recall was amazement at how incredibly inefficient it is to raise a child. For all the babysitting I did as a teenager it wasn’t until I became responsible for one that the absurdity of a child’s helplessness came into view. Even with the technological advances of our day, there just aren’t any iBaby chargers available that you can stick your kid in for a couple of hours while you head down the street for a latte. Baby girl is coming with or you’re finding someone to watch her and that’s just the way it is. The fact that you need one adult person to spend 24 hours a day, 365 days per year for a minimum of 12 years in short walking distance of a child is astounding to me in a day and age where efficiency is king. Yet this is how kids become adults and how adults sustain their lives in community. It is a process of radical dependence regardless of the technology available to us.
I say all this to get back to a baseline of sorts. In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve and says essentially this: “I’ve made a diverse and creatively complex world and as my kids, my image bearers, you are free to enjoy it all. Now take after me, and do what I do. Cultivate what I’ve given you and tend to it in creative ways. But do this with me. The minute you don’t you will put yourself in my shoes and the weight of that responsibility will be nothing short of crushing.” [paraphrase mine]
Is this not what we do when we raise a child? We give birth to another person who takes after us often in physical form or personality and then we give them the tools and materials they need to become cultivators themselves. I marvel as Ellie explores our house or helps herself to the pantry for a snack and reflects back to me the nature of divine love. She doesn’t really have to ask us for much (though for the sake of teaching manners or her own safety we encourage her to regularly). What we have is hers so long as its not harmful to her in some way. I’m also amazed that at 12 to 18 months these kids are anxious to get involved in the family routine. One of my main go-tos in terms of discipline lately is to ask Ellie for help when we need to clean up or avoid a probable tantrum over something she wants that I’m not ready for her to have. Her whole countenance moves into action as she feels enlisted as a big girl in the demands of the moment.
I guess what I want to say and am fumbling to express here is this: God has shown me through my kid that I take after him. At the same time I realize that everyone I meet is like him in some way too. He’s shown me that none of us were created to live life disconnected from the source of it. Its inefficient as hell and yet hell might just be the place where we’re so efficiently getting things done that we forget whom we were created for in the first place.
I believe on a soul level that this is what it means to be human. We bear the image of God to the world and in radical dependence on Him through our community we express his nature back to the world through the ways that we’re called to live and move and have our being. For parents, children are not valued once they start contributing in some tangible way to the family. They are valued in the first hours and days that they are born. In the same way, a child doesn’t arrive to us with a battery pack for use when her umbilical chord reserve runs dry. Babies are as needy and dependent as a person gets and they are, we are, designed that way. On purpose. So we might not be so focused on getting things done that we miss the primary relationship we were created for in the first place.
Becoming human, becoming whole, might just require a look back at the beginning. We need eyes to see our intrinsic worth and enough difficulty to push us into the arms of a God who would hold us, feed us and keep us warm. These – dear reader – these two realities, properly considered and inscribed on our hearts, would positively change the world. You are made in the image of God and whether you know it or not you are radically dependent on Him for your very breath. Reflect on this, ingest this on a soul level, and you’ll start finding out what it looks like to really live.
“You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone.
Your existence is a delight to us.”
(Rev. John Ames to his son in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead)
“I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world. summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”
– Wendell Berry