Sep 19, 2008
On Being an Infant
Right now I can't say for sure that Elijah loves me. He seems to mainly focus on eating, sleeping, pooping, and crying. Babs and I exist mainly as either a conduit or an obstacle to achieving those goals. Still, each time I look at him my heart is absolutely full--whether he's sleeping peacefully, crying frantically, or pooping dramatically with a loud grunt followed by a look of accomplished awe. I love him completely and unreservedly. How he feels about me matters little. After all, he's still just a baby.
People told me that when I became a parent I'd gain a new and deeper insight into God's love. And sure enough, during late nights, wasted by exhaustion, cradling my wailing son in my arms I found myself thinking a lot about God and in the process, seeing old truths in fresh ways. My "Little Fella," as I've taken to calling him, is teaching me much.
There's a line in a Rich Mullins song that says, of God, "I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want than take what You give that I need." I've long recognized the truth of this sentiment in my own life but it wasn't until I watched Elijah in the first few days of his life that I began to see how this human struggle to surrender might look from God's perspective.
Elijah had some difficulty learning to eat during his first week. I know breastfeeding is supposed be natural and all, but babies do have to learn to eat. For Elijah it was doubly hard because the nurses at the hospital gave him a bottle with formula on his first night of life. It turns out that the bottle is "crack for babies." Bottle-fed babies often have a hard time switching between mom and the bottle. I'm learning that it's far too easy for us as new parents to overshare, so without going into graphic detail, let me just say that Elijah had this problem. For the first four or five days, feedings for Elijah were tense, stressful occasions for mom, dad, and baby. He was so hungry and he seemed eager to suck on just about anything--a piece of his blanket, my shirt, Barbara's finger, even his own hands--anywhere but the one place he'd actually receive lifegiving nutrition and emotional satisfaction. It was so sad to see him crying, his head bobbing about, mouth wide open looking for food, frantically jamming his owns hands into his mouth and all the while what he needed and wanted was right there in front of him. If anything, he seemed angered by the insistent presence of Mom's banquet table. Despite all of this, I didn't get angry at Elijah. I was worried and saddened but mainly I just loved him all the more.
I think God is like that with us--we who search the world over, settle for that which does not satisfy, when all the while God holds out to us exactly what we need and want. "Come on, Little Fella," he coaxes, "taste and see. You will be satisfied, I promise."
Thankfully, Elijah figured it out and now nurses regularly and peacefully.
Elijah also cries a lot, and when he cries. . .boy, it's like the end of the world. His mouth opens wide, his eyes squint shut, and his little lungs go to work. His arms wave frantically and his hands gesticulate in a way oddly reminiscent of those old newsreels of Hitler orating maniacally to the masses. His legs pump like he's riding a bicycle and his body writhes and shudders with frustrated rage. His cry is generally rhythmic, but every now and then, in a moment of high drama he'll draw out one long wail that finally stutters to stop when he can't hold the note anymore. I always thought I'd be annoyed by his crying--that I'd just want to "make it stop", but it doesn't bother me in quite the way I thought it would. I still want him to stop crying and I'll do everything I can think of--burping, rocking, talking and singing, walking, changing his diaper, handing him off to Babs. But I do this not because I feel bad for me, but because my heart breaks for him. I now understand why Jesus wept at Lazarus' grave even though He knew He was about to resurrect him. It just hurts to see your child cry, even when you know everything is going to be all right.
Still, despite that ache born of love, I often feel something akin to amusement when he cries. A wet diaper, a gas bubble, hunger pangs are such a BIG DEAL to him. He doesn't seem to realize yet that the diaper will be changed, the gas will pass, the hunger will be satisfied. Each time he encounters discomfort he reacts in the extreme--"Oh no! I'm HUNGRY!!! AGAIN!!! Will I EVER eat. . .waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"
Furthermore,his means of communication is very limited right now and crying is about the only way he has to express his needs. I realized that he can't see things from my perspective. He doesn't yet know that everything will be all right and that the things that he thinks are the end of the world really aren't.
I guess I'm like that with God too. In fact, I remember that during those difficult days before he learned to nurse, I cried out to God--hands gesticulating wildly and everything: "He won't eat!!!!! AGAIN!!! Will he EVER eat. . .waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!" And I'm sure God sighed, with His heart full, and a beumused smile on His face, and said "Awwww, Little Fella. He's going to start nursing regularly in less than 24 hours. It's gonna be okay. . ." Course I kept crying until, sure enough, he started feeding. And then, just like an infant would, my crying stopped as suddenly as it had started. The need was filled.
As much as I love this time with Elijah, it's kind of exciting to know he won't always be a baby. There is so much to look forward to in the years to come and I eagerly anticipate each day with him. I know that when Elijah's a little older he will begin to respond to me not just out of need, but out of love. He may not know enough to love me now, but I know that one day he will. I have a feeling God's looking forward to the same thing happening with the infant writing this blog. In the meantime, the love each of us has for our respective babies is no less and far more than I ever imagined possible.
Below two shots of my favorite girl and our Little Fella: