They come into the world with red faces and crinkly foreheads, stubborn as weather and as changeable. We know when we take them home and settle them into safe places that they will keep us wakeful and jeopardize our peace for many turnings of the world. We keep doing it, though.
From the start, they are like the gamin, like the fleet-footed, autonomous, defensive little toughs in the tough parts of the world. There is this sense in which every baby is a Dallas Winston with winsome, unapproachable eyes and a practiced carelessness and a code of shameless opportunism and a disgusting swagger. They can do everything all by themselves. Even plunked right into the middle of all our encircling provision, they are grasping and greedy and violent.
There is this sense in which every baby is hardened like a street tough before his feet are steady enough to take him careening through alleys, before the cruel world has touched so much as the fuzzy curls on his head. He is his own man, and he looks out for himself. You can hear it in his wild, demanding shrieks – when he wakes and is hungry – and feel it in the determination of his tight-clenched fists – when you move to take something from him that he thinks he ought to have.
We love them, though. Oh, how we love them!
Sometimes we tame them and humble them and constrain them and clear a way before them for the truth to come through like dayspring. We do this when we can. It is one of the world’s greatest joys. Like that of the inloveness that a man shares with a woman. Or like the harvesting of the fruit of many years’ work and of calloused hands.
But sometimes we come upon children who are untamed and still fierce and self-reliant and deceitful, and we love them no less. There is just this thing about children. By now the baby is older and shrewder and more capable and no longer kept prisoner by our blankets and cradles and the weakness of his legs. He begins to venture further and to find trouble for himself, as the sparks fly upward.
We know about trouble, about the sparks. We know what is at the end of all of the roads. We want to shield him, to make him strong for what is to come. We want to tell him what has been and what will be. We want to wrap our arms around all the beauty of his being and impart grace to him. There are no words for the love we have for him. It is overpowering. It is like the ocean or the hurricane of stars raging over us. We do not work for it. We just have it.
But his ways are so furtive and his eyes so distrustful – and he lies to us. Does he know how we read his darting eyes like a book, watch him frame his piteous deceptions, all the while willing him to throw off that sad mask, all the while knowing he won’t? And do we love him less for his lies, for his crooked heart, for his confounded egotism?
No, we don’t, of course. Sometimes, in fact, we love him more. There is a heartbreak, a grief, a sweet, strong sympathy that injects itself into our love for him and makes it a thing of urgency, a great epic. We don’t love children because they deserve it.
That is the thing about children. We love them just because. We love them first. We hope they will love us back someday; but if they don’t, we will go on loving them all the same.
That is the thing about me.
That is the thing about the way that my Dearest Friend has loved me.
It came before everything, before I even came here at all. It was first. And I did nothing to deserve it. Like this:
“My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.”
That is the thing about love, the reason it is a sad, half-grasping affair on this planet: love is not an embracing of the darkness. It can’t be. It is an embracing – indeed, a nurturing – of the light that may come to be. Children have taught us this, also.
The roughest, wildest of them – the ones that frighten us with their impetuosity and with their boundless foolishness – when we love them, we see the brave, noble thing they may – but may not – become. We feel almost indebted to this possible future of theirs. And while they are unlovely and tough and heartless as only children can be, our love for them is all the time entangled with a vision of their perfection. It is the reason for the ache, for the bitterness of love.
George MacDonald, perhaps, says it best,
Love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected–not in itself, but in the object. As it was love that first created humanity, so even human love, in proportion to its divinity, will go on creating the beautiful for its own outpouring…Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.
I think a lot about the things that I want for the myriad of children that I love; the things I want them to do and to be and to know. It is hard to stand by and let them choose destruction and darkness and dead ends. I don’t do it if I can help it. But we can none of us be keepers of the souls of others. They do not have to listen to us. They do not have to accept the light that we pass to them reverently and with pleading. Sometimes this weighs on me, and makes love a most unbearable thing.
Then sometimes it is brought home to me that I do also run about on occasion like the wild and endangered urchins of the world, throwing back all of the gifts and the promises and disobeying flagrantly the most reasonable and beneficial orders that come to me from the hand of the Giver. How about you? Is He looking on with that unquenchable grief that our children give us?
This, I am coming to learn, is what is meant by ‘God the Father.’