I discovered something this week. While editing past blog posts for my writing portfolio, I learned something about God’s love. I discovered that, in a strange and beautiful way, examining my love for my daughter has shown me why I can trust God. [A different version of this post first appeared in 2015.]
But along she came, fast and furious – if also two weeks late. I nursed and burped her, changed and rocked her, bathed and swaddled her. Over and over. I gently washed her sensitive skin and I protected her from the sun and her big-but-still-little brother. In those first weeks and months, I loved her in the very best way that I could – by doing.
Because I felt nothing.
I did not love her, in the beginning, with my feelings. I loved with my actions.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
– 1 John 3:16
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:8
Jesus loved me by doing. Jesus spent his entire life loving by doing. Jesus cared for the sick, fed the hungry, listened to the stories of the outcast. Jesus died on the cross. He loved by doing.
He enables me to love by doing.
He enables mothers to change a thousand dirty diapers and wipe spit-up and snotty noses and dribbling food and give careful baths and warm milk while running on little sleep and too much coffee. To clean healing belly buttons and little bottoms and hold heads and hands when our babies are sick. Mothers love by doing.
I loved both of my babies before they could love me back. I loved them as they grew within me and before they took their first breath of air. Once they were born, I continued to love them before they could do anything to earn or deserve or win my love.
In our transactional world, we exchange one thing for another – work for money, money for things, and sometimes, things for love. We expect the same in our relationships. I’ll make dinner if you do the dishes. I’ll help you with the yardwork if you’ll help me change the lightbulb. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.
A mother’s love for her children is totally, entirely, mind-blowingly different. We love before there’s even any chance of a return on our investment.
Mothers love first.
We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:19
Christ also loved us first, before we knew him, before we loved him, before we could do anything to earn or deserve or win over or merit his love. He loved us with his life, by giving up his life. We can love others who can’t (or don’t) love us back because He loved us first.
In those hard days of having two very little littles, I loved the very best that I could. It was hard. It was hard to love by doing when I didn’t feel the warm fuzzies. It was hard to love first, to give so much when I was getting back so little. There were many days when I didn’t think I was capable of loving my two little ones in the ways they needed.
The truth is, I wasn’t capable – but I could do it.
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13
I could only do it because of the way Christ has loved me. By doing. First. It’s Christ’s love that makes a mother’s love possible.
Twenty months in, my love for my daughter is a tremendous, indescribable, deep-as-the-ocean love. I would do anything for her – and I want to do everything. She can’t do anything that will change my love for her.
Sometimes I don’t trust God’s love for me. I don’t understand what He’s doing in my life. It’s hard to trust things that I don’t understand. So I don’t trust that He loves me. It’s easy for me to think, Things wouldn’t have happened like this if he REALLY loved me. I forget what it is that He’s already done for me. I forget that He’s chosen to do those things because He loved me, and because He loved me first.
My daughter is an intent observer and a quick learner. When she succeeds at something new, she looks at me and beams. Sometimes I worry that she’s trying to please me because she knows about those early days, when I didn’t feel love for her right away. I worry that she thinks she needs to win my love, that she doesn’t trust my love for her. I worry that she thinks the way I loved her at the beginning was second-best.
God’s love for me is not second-best. Even in the times when I don’t feel His love for me, the truth is that He has already given me His very best. He gave me Jesus, his son. His only son. I know what it is to love a child. To offer your child is to offer the best thing you have.
God’s love for me allowed me to love my daughter when she was a newborn. His love allows me to love her now. And the way I love her — and have loved her — has been teaching me to trust the way that God loves me. One day, I hope that I can wholeheartedly trust God’s love for me. One day, I hope that my daughter can wholeheartedly trust my love for her.
Because of what I’ve done for her. Because of what He’s done for me.