like a nursing mother
14 But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me." 15 "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.
1 My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. 2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.
We often think of mighty images to describe God, and many of these images are used in Scripture. Warrior. King. Deliverer. Savior. Rock. Fortress. They are good images for us. Biblical images.
But sometimes we don’t think about the most tender image used for God in Scripture, the image that compares God to a nursing mother. This is not to say that God is female or anything like that, but God gives to us in our role as mother a way to understand what His love for us is like.
The nursing mother sustains the child from her own body. For anyone who has nursed, you know that for the first 6 months to a year, it is a lifestyle. You start out wondering you’re doing it right. There is sometimes pain…lots of pain…no matter what the La Leche League says. You can’t travel far because feedings are so close together. You have to eat nutritiously and drink lots of water. Other than maybe when you were pregnant, you’ve never been so hungry in your life! Ravenous really, since you are feeding not only yourself, but a little one. You get anxious when the little one goes on a nursing strike and refuses to eat. You cry and wonder what to do when your baby starts teething and cries with pain when trying to nurse. You find yourself on the verge of a breast infection and have to quit whatever you’re doing and head straight to bed. And then there is the time when baby starts getting teeth and she thinks it is extra fun to bite mom and get an exciting reaction! Wow! The pain! It consumes you and it is a sacrifice of yourself like nothing you have ever done before. It is a self-emptying.
And yet, even with all of the suffering that nursing brings, you find exquisite, amazing joy in being able to look down at that little, precious face, peacefully drawing sustenance from you! What a gift to be able to give of yourself in that way! And as you look at that little one, you know in your heart that you would do anything for them. You would do anything to protect them, to watch over them. When they cry, you feel it physically in your own body. When they laugh, your joy is unspeakable. The connection between you and them is palpable.
Not every mother is able to nurse. It is a personal decision and the actual act of nursing isn’t necessarily the point of the illustration that Scripture brings us. After all, in the world of the Old Testament, there was no formula. There weren’t many other options. We can be grateful for the many options a mother and baby have now, for imagine if a mother in ancient Israel had a low milk supply or trouble nursing. Possibly the child would die.
No, the point of the illustration is not that nursing is the only way for a mother to show her love. Rather, the point is that it is a picture of the self-sacrificial love that all mothers have for their little babies. For every mother, your life changes when you have a child. Your free time evaporates. Getting out is a major expedition, requiring the planning and coordination that a business executive must possess. Time with your spouse becomes more challenging. Your interests fade into the background. When people see you in public, they stop noticing you and start noticing your child. Your world revolves around diapers (and you find yourself describing their contents to acquaintances only to realize they aren’t so interested), sleepless nights (you never know you could get by on so little before), and occasional moments of the kind of exquisite joy you didn’t know was possible. It’s all about sacrifice and yet it is worth it all the first time your child kisses your cheek or says “Mommy.”
It reminds me in a small way of what Christ did for us….Philippians 2 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”
Christ emptied Himself for us, just a nursing mother—or any mother, for that matter—empties herself for her child. The passionate, “mama bear” love that we have for our little ones, the love that is made of self-sacrifice and stick-to-itiveness is the kind of love that God has for us. The word used over and over again for God’s love in the Old Testament is “steadfast love.” Love that holds onto us, no matter how much the going gets tough. If as mothers we would be willing to sacrifice just about anything for our children, how much more is God willing to do for us? For Christ came and poured Himself out so thoroughly for us that He died for us and rose again. Through His steadfast love, we as mothers and as women are freed to love those who are dear to us. And every time we feel the passion of motherly love within our hearts, we can reminded that the way we feel about our child is very much like how God feels about us. Amen.