Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Growing in Love

My son is 2 years old today. He’s talkative and challenging, fun and amazing. He’s the most clarion call I have to be where I am, but that’s a topic for another post. I could go on and on about him, like most moms, but today, the most astonishing thing I’ve discovered in reflecting on 2 years of life is how becoming a mother has helped me grow in love.

That may not seem strange, because we would all hope that the hormones of the mother and the smell, facial structure, and other things of the baby, would create that indestructible bond that ensures that another generation rises from the one before. And, of course, that all happened. My first sight of him overwhelmed my senses; I tugged the blanket back from his face to admire those newborn grey-blue eyes that looked so solemnly into mine. I took a big sniff of his newborn scent and planted kisses all over his face.

But looking back with some perspective, I wonder if my love has grown in other times and why it didn’t grow more, sooner. I know my love grew a bit when I became a Christian. I felt the assurance of God’s love for me and it inspired me to be a bit more fearless in loving others. But as powerful as a dark night of the soul then mountaintop experience was, it became a thing of a particular time and place that faded like a mile marker in the rearview mirror. And while I followed God intensely, running the gauntlet of seminary, candidacy, and residency, God became more of the subject of my work and less the love of my life. (It’s sad, folks, really, but it happens.)

The other mile marker that stood out to me was the day I married my husband. We were young, foolish, and full of love. In retrospect, I know it’s not important that the flowers didn’t show up on time or the photographer kept fussing about my make up or that we ended up cleaning up after the reception. We stood under a banner proclaiming “Amazing Love” and promised to be partners in this thing called life. Ten years later, I know our love is a deep bedrock for whatever else may come, but my husband and I have both shared how, in the birth of our child, the priorities shifted.

It is in my love for my son that I was able to outgrow Grinch-iness most fully. “And what happened, then? Well, in Whoville they say - that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day.”

Or, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, put it, “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight” (“How Do I Love Thee?").

Or, from Scripture, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 35:26).

It’s a strange thing, to grow in love. Most might think it’s a cliché, rather rosy statement. But, for me, I tell you it’s something vast and daunting. As I have grown in love, I realize that I have a strength and courage I never knew. I have the strength to work long days on little sleep, to tolerate things as they are for the hope of how they might become, to nourish another from the store of my own body. I have the courage to place another ahead of myself, consistently and always, denying my own selfish desires and claiming my place in any harm’s way, and by this example, to give that same love to others.

As I have grown in love, I have become terribly vulnerable. It started with episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. I would sob during every episode that had something tragic to do with a child. And my sensitivity kept growing! I have to gird up my loins just to watch the news or to embrace my everyday vocation as a pastor.

I think this growth is unique because my son is ever before my eyes and on my heart. While there was one glorious moment at 3:04am two years ago, there is now constantly with me a bright, wonderful, playful little boy who calls me to challenge my assumptions and grow in love. Praise be to God!

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