I have always loved children. I was one of those girls people call a “Little Mother.” The kind who sit in the shade under a tree with all the strollers, “helping” the babies and their mommies, despite all the fun-looking older kids running around playing tag.
Later I was a prolific babysitter, my weekends full of watching cousins and neighbors and my mom’s friends’ children. I loved all those little kids: the angels and the troublemakers, the lively ones and the meek. (Or rather, I loved almost all of them – we won’t talk about the spoiled 12-year-old who locked me out of her house.)
I especially loved my cousins, and later my nieces: The children whom I loved not because they were cute or sweet (though of course they all were), but truly for their own sake. They were born and with us and part of our family and I loved them. It’s as simple as that.
So it’s not like I entered motherhood as a complete novice in the baby department. I felt prepared for the work involved in caring for a child and I was aware that there would be a tremendous emotional strain to deal with. I also knew that I would feel a love for my own child that would be different from any I had yet experienced.
But I wasn’t prepared for my infant son to teach me something about the whole of humanity. Or for him to give me a humbling, awe-filled glimpse into the heart of God.
So many nights, I sat in the rocker and nursed my baby boy. I studied his perfection: smooth, clear skin; long eyelashes; soft, round cheeks; creases at his wrists and thighs; dimples on his hands; wispy, fair hair; chest moving gently as he breathed his sweet breath; heart thump- thump- thumping in that reassuring way… I could go (and I have gone) on. At any rate, I can provide the images, but I can’t express the depth of the love I felt in those moments.
The love which, of course, I continue to feel. We just celebrated my son’s third birthday. These days when I kiss my boy’s forehead, I think more on the funny and imaginative things he says; on his hugs for his brother; on his flushed, sweaty face and bright blue eyes when he runs around the playground; on the way he likes to kiss both of my cheeks, like the little French boy he isn’t. And the feeling is the same. Stronger, perhaps.
A couple of years ago I sat in a different rocking chair, listening to a C-SPAN Booknotes interview with Iris Chang on her book The Rape of Nanking. I won’t describe the horror of the event on which the book is centered; I will only say that I was horrified. More than horrified: I felt a pain that seemed to go straight to my soul.
I sat there rocking my baby as I listened and I had this powerful image in my mind of all those other women who had rocked their babies – the babies who grew to become the victims and perpetrators of this most terrible of crimes. I thought of how I stroked my own son’s skin as I held him, how I smoothed his hair and absorbed the feeling of his weight against me. I treasured my son. I saw him for the precious, important being that he was – a human life and a child of God. Surely, those mothers must have felt the same about their babies. They must have known exactly how precious those lives were.
And yet some of those lives were treated with contempt. They were brushed aside, abused, degraded. I felt like screaming, “Didn’t you know how important those people were?!” Others were degraded by their own actions. Their mothers rocked innocent babies who grew to do grave evil. I can’t imagine that any mother would want such a future for her child.
So it goes on. I hear about atrocities and I think of mothers rocking their babies: The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the rampage in Afghanistan, the murders in Newtown. I think of the victims, but I think of the perpetrators too. I can’t hate them. I mourn for them and the damage they did to their souls. I mourn for their mothers’ sakes. I mourn even for Kermit Gosnell, who took those most unfortunate of babies: the ones whose mothers did not protect them, did not rock them, did not realize how very precious they were.
But I firmly believe that someone else knew exactly how precious those babies were. I believe that God valued and loved those babies from the moment they were conceived. All of them: those of Nanking, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Newtown, Gosnell, and so many other tragedies. And us too. We may think that we live normal, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill lives, but I believe that God views each and every one of us as unique and infinitely precious.
When I remember rocking my babies and I ponder the intense, indescribable love I feel for them, I think to myself, “If I love my boys this much, how much more must God love me?” When the answer sinks in, when I get that small glimpse into the heart of God, it just about takes my breath away. I am full of awe and gratitude and a keen awareness of how little I deserve that love. But I also know that I don’t have to deserve it. My boys don’t have to do a thing to earn my love. And there’s nothing they could do to stop me loving them.
I think most mothers would say the same. Through all of history and across all the world, mothers love their babies. They hold them tight and rock them. They treasure them. In them they see individuality and worth and promise. And all the while, God looks over their shoulders. He gazes at each and every one of us with a parent’s love, but greater. He loves and values us when our own parents fail to, when other people make victims of us, and even when we damage our souls with acts of evil.
Feeling that love, letting it all sink in and settle around you as you rock your child on a quiet afternoon, that’s a love that changes you.