Exhausted and overwhelmed, my baby falls toward me, too tired to reach out and ask with his hands, nuzzling into me with the desperate eagerness born of a bedtime car ride. His wails shudder into little whimpers as he nurses, finally finding the comfort and security he was craving. I feel his soft baby skin up against mine, his little hand reaching around to pat my side in a little gesture of contentment. Gratitude is too grown-up of a word for his emotion, an adult interpretation of the simple wordless feelings that swell up within him. He had felt need; now he feels joy. And the gentle sleepy happiness pulsing through him seeps into me through those little fingers hugging me, that slight pressure of his body resting on mine, and I know with utter certainty that this love-giving brings me some of the fiercest joy and deepest satisfaction that I have ever known.
It’s remarkable how this little person – who has worn me out, brought me to the end of my patience, and demanded every ounce of energy in my being – can also give me such incredible fulfillment, in the very act of meeting his needs. It’s a biological necessity, of course: our species wouldn’t last very long with such dependent and needy offspring without a compensating hormonal surge in the parents! The snuggling they need to feel comforted and secure triggers the production of oxytocin in us, helping us to feel bonded and loving towards them. I think, though, that it also speaks to a spiritual truth: that in giving ourselves in love, we find a deeper peace and joy than we would have found in simply pursuing our own ends. It makes sense to me that God would have designed the physical truth to reflect the spiritual truth, in one of the myriad of ways that our bodies transmit His image into the visible, physical world. But the spiritual truth is greater and wider than its physical counterpart, for we can love others in this self-giving way besides just our own children, and though the biological reaction will be lacking, the spiritual fulfillment and joy will still be present. The lesson is most easily learned in the crucible of the family; my prayer is that I would also apply it in the wider spheres around me.