I assisted on a Caesarian section yesterday (a gorgeous, if big, baby boy – prayers for Baby H and family, please!) and it got me thinking again about what it means to be a proverbial child of God. When I am lucky enough to get a hold of a new-born, there’s something in me that doesn’t want to let them go, ever, something that wants to keep watch over them forever, defend them from transgressors, provide for them, and dry every tear they come to shed. Five minutes with a baby, and I am ready to take down any form of threat they come up against. (nb, if I am like this at 23, it’s going to be a complete nightmare by the time I’m 30….men, you have been warned).
When we are born, unlike so many of the earth’s animals, we are completely dependant on our carers. We are not like foals, which are able to stand and run minutes after birth. We are not like baby turtles, which strike out alone once they’re hatched. We rely on those around us to give shelter, food, and love. We depend on something far beyond our current understanding. We are born unable to see clearly, hear clearly, and even sit up. We live those initial months and years, blind.
I think God made us like that for a reason – he created us to depend. He created us to need so desperately, that person who cares for us in the early days and years. Depending on God should come easy, then, surely, if reliance is something we have literally practised since birth? And yet, it is not easy, it seems to come at so high a price, when really, it’s the giving up of that dependance that costs us so deeply as it draws us away from Jesus. As we grow and gain understanding, we lose that ability to just, simply, lean. We lose the sense of urgency that comes from knowing that alone, we cannot, will never, get through. We try to do it on our own. Jesus, when He came, didn’t appear suddenly, with a PhD and an impressive CV. He didn’t have a loan from the bank for his first house, or a credit card. He wasn’t able to whip up a quick curry, or iron his…..loincloths? Shirts? Robes? Anyway – He came as we do, as a baby, tiny, naked, dwarfed by the world around him, desperately vulnerable. The Son of God, of Man, was vulnerable. Only his parents’ watchful eye prevented him falling out of that manger and under the hooves of the oxen. When they had to flee Bethlehem, Jesus was carried off in the arms of his mother. He came in a state of dependancy, as we do too, but unlike us, he never stopped depending on God. He never lost that sense of being a cherished and protected child, except in his final moments on the Cross, when he gave it all up for us. The way I feel when I hold these babies, or care for the people with learning disabilities I work with, that feeling of being bound by a hot rope of love to another person, a rope that does not fray and will not give way, is such a fraction of how God feels towards us. I can’t imagine it.
If you’re a bit geeky like I am, you may have read Flatlands, a sort of mathematical allegory on perspective. To summarise it, it’s set in a land inhabited by 2D shapes. One of them finds an opening to a new land, inhabited by cubes, and spheres and pyramids. When he reports back, none of the other shapes believe him – they can’t get their heads around this concept of people living a life so high above theirs. They can’t grasp volume. I was thinking earlier that just as babies and small children don’t really know what their parent feels towards them, we are also a bit uncertain about just how strong God’s love is towards us – sort of as though His love belongs to another dimension to ours, 4D to our 3D (and by extension, the 2D of small children), and we just cannot in our simplicity grasp the concept of this whole new way of thinking and feeling. God’s volume of loving exceeds our perimetered understanding. Our love is linear; God’s is dodecahedronal, or more. It transcends time and space. It does not quite fit into the spatial categories of our world. I think it was CS Lewis who wrote at length about how we classify God more on what He is not, than what He is – because, we know He is not mortal, not limited, not constricted, not bound – but finding the words that express how He extends beyond every perimeter of understanding is difficult. I am, that I am, and that is beyond you.
Remembering God’s love is something I struggle with; sometimes, I wonder if His love actually matters, as long as I am willing to serve and follow – and sometimes, the way ahead feels so very empty, that the only conclusion I can reach is one of utter abandonment. Sometimes, I feel so greatly flawed, so overcome with struggling, that I just can’t see why God, or anyone for that matter, would love me anyway. I mess up, say the wrong thing, get myself into impressively close corners, forget to pray, forget to tithe, forget to thank God for each breath He gives me. Churches are often so full of people being incredibly ‘holy’ on the outside that it sends the uncertain out with their tails between their legs – how can God love me, if I am so very inferior, the perpetually disappointing runt of the litter? How can God care for one so weak at times in faith, when there are others raising the roof with their praises and evangelising left, right and centre? Depression distorts my view of self and the world I live in until it’s so bleak that the line between living and dying starts to fade, and all I see is a fallen world, full of fallen people, with no prospects of regaining the ground they lost. Love, like the sun is always there, but so strongly blotted out by the dark clouds that overwhelm us from time to time. When it’s pouring with rain, the sun seems like a distant memory. When depression takes hold, love seems like a story from another time.
Counselling (or, therapy, for the Americans) is making me see that a lot of the love I grew up with had so many conditions on it, and was so variable - I love you, but I love drinking more, I love you, but I love shouting more, I once loved you, but then you lost it by trying to make this family sober. Realising this has been tough. In a perfect world, we would pattern how we love others, on how God loves us and how we accept that love – but in reality, so often the converse is true. I’m not so great at imagining a love without conditions, without limits. It’s 3D to my 2D, it’s a tetrahedron to my triangle. I’m learning, though, as always. As long as I have God’s love in my sights, I’ll get through. As long as I un-grow and re-learn to lean, I’ll get through. Childhood ends as we physically grow, but being a child of God is never-ending. It takes some time.