It’s been many years since I nursed my children, but once upon a time it was all I seemed to do. Nursing became functionally easier over time, but remained complicated in other ways, leading me to learn spiritual lessons from the whole endeavor.
Emotionally, there’s a level of pride to growing a thriving human being solely on the nourishment your body provides. Spiritually, though, there is battle to do. So conditioned to caring for myself first, the nursing of my infants required a constant and intentional shift to loving others as much as I loved myself. No sentimental theology would do. Only living that truth would keep my babies alive.
At first it was hard to coordinate holding a hungry infant and guiding her to my breast, making sure she latched on in a way that gave her sustenance and didn’t injure me. Nursing hurt at times. It was so constant. No matter how tired or hungry or thirsty I might be, there was a little one (or two) whose need was even greater.
The summer after my second set of twins was born was one of the hardest times in my life. I had six children under age six, including two sets of twins under age two. I was the care giver for so many – the nurser of hungry infant twins, the diaper changer of active toddlers, the corrector of preschoolers. Smack dab in the middle of mothering, I could scarcely imagine days when my breasts wouldn’t fill and empty of milk, when the garbage can wouldn’t stink of dirty diapers, or when my children would give more than they took. But, those days were coming and in fact would far outnumber the days of infancy and clambering baby care.
A simile in today’s reading brought back memories of those demanding days. The ancient psalm compared humility to resting in the Lord like a weaned child in its mother’s arms. That’s a poetic device I’ve lived. As a woman, I like it when God adds mothering images to descriptions of faith.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
A weaned child is not fully self sufficient, but neither is she suckling every waking moment. When my babies were weaned it meant they were no longer newborns. They were maturing. When they chose to cuddle in my arms, it was because they loved me and wanted to be there, not just because I was their meal.
So it is with the Lord and me. I am always His child, but not an eternal infant craving easy spiritual comforts. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness requires a more mature palette. Meat, instead of just milk. “Like a weaned child is my soul within me” because I know from whose hand comes all nourishment and strength. Not too full of myself, but confident in the Lord, I can hope and work and rest like a well cared for child. That’s the poetry I’m living now.