He hasn’t been an easy baby, we say. As his personality continues to develop, his stubborn streak appears. We think he’s going to be a strong-willed child.
It’s a good thing God made him so cute, we say. Even in the overwhelming cuteness, our sanity dangles at times.
The challenging newborn phase isn’t so far removed that we’ve began talking about expanding our family further. Not yet, but one day, we say.
Of course we say all these things totally in love and absolutely captivated by the little boy who does indeed have bits and pieces of both of us wrapped up in his two-foot frame.
And yet our humanness, our sinfulness, has also never been so clear, we say. The trenches of parenthood are not for the weak and yet we are all so very weak indeed.
And as mothers, we take the brunt of a lot of this pressure.
It was in the haze of the first two weeks of his life when I stumbled across Isaiah 40:11, sleep-deprived and sore, questioning every thought and expectation I once held about motherhood. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd;” it says, “he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
Did you catch that last phrase? He gently leads those that have young. Or as the Amplified Bible puts it “He will gently and carefully lead those nursing their young.”
I can still feel the harness of the rollercoaster of emotions I felt during those first few nights and that first month and all the months after where we struggled so hard with breastfeeding. It started out rough when as a newborn he wouldn’t latch and the lactation consultant practically set up camp in the hospital room with us. I had to pump exclusively and partially supplement his first week of life. After a couple of weeks, I was able to get him to nurse with the help of some aids and was finally able to wean him off that at a couple of months. Each hurdle passed was huge, but he was still a fussy eater and had multiple nursing strikes leaving us both in tears more times than I can count.
As tempting as it was to give up, I thought about how HARD I fought to get where we were. All those pumping sessions in the hospital to establish my milk supply, all those late night feedings, all those times where he would refuse to eat for slow let down and other reasons and I’d have to pump and then the phase would pass and he’d nurse again.
Breastfeeding was a love/hate relationship but it was something I had my heart set on doing. And I’m glad I did, but the pressure did take a toll. I think back to being in the hospital bed and fighting the surge of hormones because I wanted to breastfeed him so badly and was heartbroken at the thought that it may not work. I wasn’t sure we’d even make the first few months, let alone reach the six month mark and then surpass my personal goal of a year. Imagine my surprise when we made it 13 months.
Whether a baby is breastfed or formula fed, being a new mom or even a mom three-times-over with a new baby – is one of the most vulnerable, if not the most vulnerable experiences a woman can have. Your body and heart are split wide open. There is so much pressure. So much mom guilt. So much am-I-even-doing-this-right-because-I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing feelings.
This verse was a life-raft God threw my way in the overwhelming sea of new parenting. Sleep-deprivation and postpartum hormones, along with all the pressures and challenges of a completely helpless infant, can make you feel isolated. Like you are slowly drowning and unable to breathe in the waves of all the unmet expectations you had before the sweetest yet most demanding life change burst forth through you into the world – lungs blazing.
It was the life support I needed to catch my breath, the perspective shaking, spiritual eye-opening mouth-to-mouth that infused the soul relief I so desperately craved.
How does he lead us tired, worn out mommas? Like a shepherd. The Biblical image of a shepherd is one that teaches, feeds and tends to – born out of friendship. The shepherd sustains and supports. The shepherd guides to the watering-place for refreshment. The shepherd carries and bears the weight, much like how women carry and absorb the weight of a baby within.
Bosom literally means to inclose. So not only does he look upon us, beholding the bags under our eyes and all, during those multiple night feedings and among the incessant gas-pain inducing cries, but he takes hold of us, pulling us into his arms and fully inclosing us in a hug. An endearing and embracing hug where we can rest our weight on him and our cheek against his chest.
John, the beloved disciple, knew a little a bit about leaning on his shepherd. During the last supper, the Bible says “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples who Jesus loved.” Here the Greek root for leaning means into the midst, among, between. If you go a root word further, it means to lie, of an infant. And as we hold our babes in our arms, tenderly comforting – the Great Shepherd is leaning down from heaven, entering our midst and taking us into his arms. And like John, when turn our head and settle against his chest, he whispers in our ear.
In Numbers 11, Moses is exhausted with the complaining of the Israelites. They began to rabble among them, questioning God’s character. Moses turns to God and asks, did I give conceive and birth these children? Why do you tell me to carry them and nurse them? I can’t do it, the burden is too heavy for me.
Then the Lord tells Moses to bring seventy elders of Israel to come and meet with him. And he comes down and takes some of the Holy Spirit that he laid on Moses and multiplies is admist the elders so Moses wouldn’t have to burden the responsibility alone.
Parenthood is one of the greatest and most joyous callings in life, but the responsibility, especially in today’s culture, to raise men and women of God also falls heavy. “Pay careful attention,” the book of Acts says, “to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
When, like Moses, the sleepless nights and burden of godly parenting seems too great to bear, God meets us where we are and multiplies the abundance of his Spirit.
And as we shepherd the little ones entrusted to us, God shepherds us, continually guiding and leading us into further sanctification and holy habitation, while carrying us against his chest all the way.