For many, Christmas means trying to grasp God's all-consuming love for us, without the helpful perspective of having once been someone's darling
—1 John 3:1–2
There are a number of us, within the Body of Christ, who have either been abandoned or abused by parents and thus may not fully connect with the concept of being a special “child of God.”
While on a recent retreat, the story of a parent’s loving look set me up for deeper contemplation on what it meant to be looked upon by the very face of Mercy. I’ve discovered I am “feelings challenged” when it comes to understanding what that means and what it is to be seen within a love such as that.
Understand, I am not especially sad or depressed about life situations; I am not feeling cheated, but — being single and childless — I feel curious. Curious enough to ask my friends about it. “What do you, as parents, feel when gazing upon your children?” I have asked. “As a beloved child, when young — or now, looking back as an adult with children of your own — what was in the moments you experienced, that you became aware of such a gaze?”
God loved us enough, individually and uniquely, to express that love through the incarnation. I understand the concept intellectually; emotionally, it draws a blank.
Perhaps that is why I find pictures of a mother with her child the most evocative of all — not for the sake of my empty arms — and why I asked those questions of those I feel close to. A friend, Simcha Fisher (mother of ten!), shared with me a profound moment of her insight.
“I was sitting down to feed Corrie and thinking how grateful I was that she couldn’t manage a spoon yet, because it’s such a delight to give her what she needs. Each spoonful of applesauce made me rejoice. I wish I could say I always felt this way, but it’s just a few flashes during the day when I really feel what a joy it is to nurture and enjoy someone like Corrie, who is so helpless and silly and needs me so badly.”
Is this the language of love for which I lack a vocabulary?
To fulfill the soul’s need for nourishment (with love through appropriate parenting, with all the failings of being human and trying to be a good parent) seems to be the purest expression of God’s desire for us; a way to understand his devotion to his precious little girl or boy (even when we’re in our golden years).
Soon it will be Christmas, when God’s deepest desire for us was expressed in the incarnation, the day he offered himself as food for our hungering hearts, nourishment for us too helpless and silly to feed ourselves.
In recognizing that, I can point outside myself and say, “That is love,” and know it with certainty, and trust it, even if my emotions are blank. This is when I can express to others God’s charity and, when I lack the connection as a special little princess of a mom or dad, be assured it truly does exist.
Let us not be confounded by an unfamiliar love; let us be curious, instead, and content to pursue the unfathomable to the depths we are permitted.
Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB, is a Benedictine oblate, lay hermit and author. Her works include The Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. She blogs at Morning Rose Prayer Gardens.
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