How can a baby take up so much space?
I spent last Friday and into the weekend like many people did, simultaneously watching the news for every development and reviling the media for capitalizing on suffering; listening intently to the precious, heartbreaking stories the children told and wishing they never had to tell them; reading news articles and blogposts and Facebook rants, head nodding and tears welling and head shaking. I read advice about how to talk to children, and I wondered whether my son had heard somehow and whether I needed to explain. He knows something of grief himself, of children that aren’t supposed to die, so I wondered how he’d understand if I did. I read comments from celebrities–why do we always look to our celebrities at times like these? I always wonder–that were uplifting and shaming and thought-provoking. I shuddered to read that the gunman may have suffered from a personality disorder, and I grieved to learn more and more again about the plight of the mentally ill. And perhaps most of all, I imagined those parents, the ones who rushed to answer the summons to the firehouse where their children were supposed to be safely and desperately awaiting their arrival. What of those mamas and dadas whose children weren’t? I wept with those mamas, like so many of us did, and I thought that I could somehow feel just the edge of the incomprehensible that they felt in that moment. Rachel weeping for her children, indeed.
Also last week, my baby (may I please still call her that, as she hurtles toward two years old?) was sick. Fever, cough, congestion–‘tis the season, indeed. Unlike her big brother, who has for his whole life been generally a hands-off sick kid; and unlike her big sister, who always slept being held, healthy or not, but almost never in bed; my littlest is a snuggler. The always-and-only answer is mama’s bed. This is new to me, and every time she’s sick it takes me longer than it should to figure out the answer: rocking, humidifier, pain reliever, milk–it’s all good, but nothing leads to sleep except mama’s bed.
Which is actually a very simple answer, as it turns out, and a sweet one. I have plenty of room in my bed, and she’s my littlest baby yet. Plenty of room for a snuggler who just needs her mama to sleep. But here’s where every parent who has ever had a child sleep in his or her bed knows the story: no matter how tiny, a baby takes up a remarkable amount of space. It’s uncanny, really, that tiny fingers and stubby legs and sweet snores can crowd the vast expanse of a king-size bed. But crowd they do, and in persistent and smothering and deafening ways that math cannot explain. It’s remarkable.
So last week, as my littlest tossed and turned feverishly, at once using my pillow, her pillow, and my stomach to rest her sweaty head (there’s no doing the math), when her chubby, fever-warm fingers sleepily made their way from rubbing the edge of her blankie to stroking/squeezing/poking my face, I couldn’t help but simultaneously laugh (as quietly as possible) and weep for the parents whose children’s fingers aren’t warm anymore. I daresay having held the cold fingers of death, the once warm fingers that would no longer be, I can somehow feel just the edge of the incomprehensible those parents are feeling these incomprehensible nights–all of it in the warm, chubby fingers probing my damp eyes and smiling chin.
A baby takes up so much space.
Mary, did you know? I had never heard the song until the women’s carol sing this year. Mary, did you know how the warm, chubby fingers of your Baby would feel when they grew cold? She didn’t, couldn’t possibly have. Who could? “Mary did you know the sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great I Am?” That Baby, Mary’s Baby, once He had finished taking up all the space in her body, then took up all the space in her heart as every mama’s baby does, all the space and then some. That Baby’s feverish nights and first steps and funny mispronunciations and big successes seized every bit of focus and joy and pride that young mother could muster, I’m sure. But the Great I Am? That Baby is to take up all the space for all of us. And at times like these, in Advents like this one (“AdventS” plural? can there be others?), there’s plenty of space to take up, I think.
Would that we would heed the invitation to fill all of our space with that Baby. The space left by unanswered questions and things impossible to understand and the vast crevasse of griefs–of those families, of that town, of this nation, and of our own–would that the Baby could fill it all, again and again, full past filled with comfort and warmth and promise. Can we allow it? Can we allow our protests and rants and fears and weeping and uncertainties to be filled with and surrounded by hope and promise? Can we simultaneously grieve and rejoice–babies killed, and Baby born–and trust that it all fits somehow, that weeping and laughing can coexist, that the very fingers of the God-Baby squeezed His mother’s tear-stained cheeks and took up all the space that any of us has?
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
(Luke 3: 4b-6)
It’s almost Christmas. Come, Lord Jesus–again and again we say it–come and take up all the space that a baby can. A Baby can. May we open our hearts to be filled, even our broken, weary hearts, and invite Him to fill all the space to bursting.