There are days when giving up on God seems like a reasonable option, days when you wonder where to find hope in a world that seems destined only for conflict and division.
There are moments when weariness threatens to win the day, moments when tenderness seems a fragile thing and you find yourself hiding away between that familiar rock and that same old hard place. I hate these days, but I think I’ve found a cure for them.
Nothing brings tenderness back into my mind and softness back into my heart like spending a few hours with a newborn child. Even if you only have a few minutes I’d recommend watching this little one take her first bath. Watch it even just for a moment and you’ll know what I’m getting at. I’ve seen few things more relaxing and reassuring than this short video.
Babies redeem us. They live in pure vulnerability and in doing so they draw generosity out of us; they give us a purpose. We make love to make them and in return they make lovers out of us. They remind us of who we are, of where we come from, and of what we’re meant to do. On those days when we’re ready to give up on God, I think that babies are a sure reminder that God hasn’t given up on us.
I recently spent the day with one of my oldest friends and his wife, Jeff and Rachael are their names. They have a newborn son named Giuseppe. To see Jeff, someone I’ve known since primary school, holding his firstborn child was a great gift, certainly one of the more beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed.
During the course of the day, Guiseppe fell asleep on Jeff’s chest. The baby sleeping on his chest meant that we could speak neither too much nor too loudly. In the silence of that afternoon I came to know my friend as a father. I could see fatherhood in him. It was both something new and something familiar. It was wonderful.
In the quiet I thought of the many photo-albums in my own family house, albums full of pictures of my own grandfather, asleep in his recliner, with a whole generation of babies napping on his chest. A short while later my curiosity welled up and, since Jeff couldn’t really talk, I asked his wife Rachel, “So, what’s motherhood like?”
“You know,” she said, “it’s such a cliché, but it’s true what they say: You don’t know what love is until you have a child.” Somewhere, deep beneath the joy I felt, I also felt the pinch of regret that such a cliché brings to people who don’t have children. No one ever means to diminish the experience of the barren or the celibate, but to say that you can’t know what love is until you do this or that, well… it generally excludes those who haven’t done, or won’t do, this or that… baby-making or otherwise.
I love babies. I’m also happy with the life to which God has called me, a life where I will have no children of my own. But, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel from time to time the curiosity of knowing what that love of parenthood is like. We all want to know love. We want to be completed by it, and for us to think that there is even some small slice of love that will be withheld from us is hard to accept.
A bit later in the conversation I asked Rachael to explain what she had learned about love now that she had a son. I wondered if she could put into words some of the insight that the simple fact of motherhood had given her. “How does parenthood change the experience of love?” I asked. Jeff offered his own answer quietly, so as not to wake the baby sleeping on his chest: “It’s unconditional,” he whispered into the child’s hair. Rachael responded enthusiastically, with a smile on her face: “It’s way bigger! It’s just way bigger than I thought.”
I will never know what it’s like to be a mother or a father, but I’ve certainly known the “way-bigger-ness” of love. It’s similar to Paul Coutinho, S.J.’s question, “How big is your God?” Well, if we’re talking about the God of love then our answer, the only reasonable answer, has to be “way bigger!” Whether you have a child or not Rachael’s wisdom is worthy of reflection: Love is way bigger than you thought. It’s just way bigger.
We can sometimes forget that God is love, especially when we experience how pain can pierce the hearts of those who are courageous enough to love in the first place. As long as there are babies and people who love them then I’m convinced that God hasn’t given up on us and neither should we.
If you’re having one of those tough days, then watch that baby-bath video again. Know that you are held by God as that child is held; know that love is way bigger than you thought, and remember that just because it’s way bigger, doesn’t mean that it has to be way complicated. Take a quiet summer afternoon and rest in the warmth of love and don’t give up on God. Don’t ever give up on love.