I have never really considered myself a “baby person”. I wasn’t the one itching to hold a friend’s newborn, desperate to become a mom one day myself, entertaining visions of domestic bliss. When I became a parent to my own baby, it was hard for me. I didn’t like that they couldn’t talk, communicate their feelings in a rational way, or tell you out right what it was they wanted. I hated the guess work.
The only exception was bed time. Those last thirty minutes of the day were magic, when the dimmer on the overhead light was low, when they smelled of lavender and clean baby straight from the bath, and when the carefully curated playlist of lullabies filled the room as I rocked them to sleep. I had forgotten how much I loved that time, until I went to visit my brother and sister-in-law and their new baby, Charlie, this week. At just four weeks old, Charlie is made up of all my favorite baby things: shoulder fuzz and a wrinkled forehead, chicken legs and earnest cries. And though I didn’t put him to bed at night, I would have some special time with just him in the mornings, and his first feeding of the day.
I got out my old newborn playlist and listened again to the songs that were songs of new motherhood for me. Of gazing into the eyes of these brand spanking new humans and all the emotion they elicit.
I was reminded of the word that marked every nighttime encounter with these new little lives: wonder. Wonder at this tiny being in front of you, wonder at what in the world you did to be deemed worthy of the responsibility of raising this precious and slightly overwhelming child. Wonder that you were, inexplicably, doing it, even though you consistently felt out of your league and out of your mind. But more than that. Wonder at the blank-slate-ness of the baby in your arms.
I remember thinking so often in those early years, they are mine, and yet, there is so much about them I don’t even know. The question that pervades every interaction, consciously or not being, Is this is who you are? Are you active? Are you fussy? Are you a good sleeper? Are you a good eater? Are you adaptable? Are you “easy”? Are you cranky? Are you independent? Are you stubborn? Are you vocal? Are you, you, yet?
It’s strange, because you feel this love that doesn’t have edges to it, parameters or explanation. You don’t love this person for anything they have or haven’t done—they haven’t been around long enough for them to have done much of anything. In a lot of ways, you love them for their possibility, their potential, their yet-to-be-ness.
And the truth is, love in this way, is easier.
Because I remember looking into the milk drunk eyes of my baby boys more than a decade ago and finding myself incapable of imagining that these bundles of joy and mystery could ever talk back to me, disrespect me, or hurt me. I couldn’t see a scenario where I was so mad at how they treated me, their dad, or their brother that I would have to remove myself from the situation to take a few deep breaths before continuing a conversation. I couldn’t envision a scenario where my frustration over dirty dishes left on the kitchen table, discarded socks left sprawled on the floor, or lack of follow through for homework and chores would make me so mad and so irritated and feeling so helpless, I wondered where I had gone wrong. I never would have predicted I would be lied to, accused of not understanding, and shut out of a bedroom because this one tiny baby, now emerging teen, needed some “time”. I never would have known in those early days of boundless and speculative love, what love in the particular would ask of me.
Because that’s what happens when these tiny babies begin to grow into themselves. They become particulars and not generalities. And you find you don’t just love the idea of them, but the real them. You haven’t just fallen for their possibility, you have stuck around for their actuality. Who they became and who they have failed to become. Who you imagined them to be and who they really and truly are. And the miracle of it all is, love in the particular is not only possible, it’s infinitely powerful. Because it has a specific past and a more narrowed future and love in this manifestation somehow manages to fill in the cracks and the crevices, the space and the gaps. And still, even still, it overflows.
Love in the particular is messier and grittier. But maybe most all, it’s better.
That’s what I found going through my mind this past week, holding this four-week bundle of potential: that I love the possibility of Charlie. But even more, I can’t wait to love the particularity of him. It’s what I have learned to do with my own kids. It’s what every parent learns to do. But even more than that? I think it’s what every human, every follower of Jesus especially, is asked to do.
Love is fuzzy and nebulous and indistinct when it isn’t connected to the specifics of a person who has hurt us, offended us, demeaned us. Love is sanitized and sterile when it isn’t directly related to a real person on the other end who has done more than enough to be counted undeserving of this love.
But love in the particular knows all that has and hasn’t been done, and loves anyway.
Love in the particular knows the edges and lengths to which you have been pushed, and loves anyway.
Love in the particular knows the particular ways you have been hurt and let down, disappointed and dismissed and still, it loves anyway.
This is the love asked of us. Not the love of greeting cards and sentimentality. But the love of unmet expectations and forgiveness in spite of it. Of shocking disappointment and trying again…and again. Of fissures and fractures and never giving up.
Babies remind how us how love begins. But babies becoming their actual selves remind us of the real task of love. Loving the reality of what is, whatever is coming. However broken. However hard. However difficult.
I still find the baby stage a challenging one. I am not sure I will ever consider myself a “baby person”. But I am a love-of-possibility person. A love-of-potential person. And most of all, I’ve grown to be a love-of-the-particular person. Not because it comes easily, but because that’s the good stuff, the real stuff. Because this is the way I think love was always meant to be. Because Jesus loved us this way, first.
Now, we go and do likewise.