Sundays are hard on small ones, hard enough that I understand why some families with preschoolers don’t make it to church. With one introverted girl who finds large groups of people overwhelming and another who is happiest when she gets a chance to rest mid-morning, we all four come home exhausted, fully spent and ready for a long afternoon nap.
Our small gathering doesn’t have the childcare capacity to care for a baby who has taken it as her personal mission to become the poster child for separation anxiety, but, many weeks, we can keep Abby occupied despite her need for sleep. She’ll bob in our arms during the music, watching the strange shapes of people’s faces as they sing, then play on the floor during the Communion mediation and the sermon and the time for sharing, content with her toys as she rolls from one side of the room to the other.
This week, however, she was having none of it.
Nothing could keep her happy. Not her favorite weeble toy, not funny faces from those around her, not sitting or standing or rolling. She voiced her discontent, loud and clear, a disruption to the quiet contemplation of the congregation, and so I bundled her into the Ergo and we went for a stroll.
I wandered with her nestled against my chest, her pudgy legs dangling and kicking, her eyes bright as she watched the hawks soar and dip overhead. I picked my way along the path. The breeze tugged at my hair, and I breathed deeply, taking in the pasture and the pond, the land and trees and sky. I whispered hymns to her as I walked and she cooed in response, and we had our own quiet time of reflection out there underneath the trees, just the two of us.
Later, she slept in the car, a scant twenty minutes that inoculated her against her normal afternoon nap. We played on the living room floor long past the time she’d normally be asleep, long into the time I might spend reading or writing or napping myself. I watched her, ready for the first fuss, the first time she rubbed her eyes. When she finally seemed ready for rest, I gathered her into my arms. I nursed and I snuggled and I sang. She fought, valiantly staving off the dragon sleep, until at long last, after an hour of alternating fussing and babbling, smiling and crying, rocking and soothing, she let go.
If you’d have asked me what my Sunday would hold, I’d have told you: singing, and Communion, and a sermon at church. Taking notes, listening, learning in community. Lunch, then an afternoon of rest and quiet, of personal study or writing or reading as my girls slept.
Instead, it held time outside with my girl, just the trilling calls of the birds, the whisper of the breeze to instruct me. A baby needing me, constantly needing me. Rocking and singing, soothing and holding, waiting, waiting, waiting for her to finally fall asleep in my arms.
In Perelandra, the second book of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy (which I am reading for the first time), Dr. Ransom, a human from earth, converses with a Lady of Venus. She had expected her husband, but found Ransom instead, and they are discussing her reaction to this “unexpected good”:
“And this, O Piebald,” she says, “is the glory and wonder you have made me see; that it is I, myself, who turn from the expected good to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One could conceive of a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good.”
I have to be careful with this line of thinking, for it could easily be used to bludgeon, to trap, to harm. I know all too well that not everything that comes our way is a “given good,” that this life offers pain and sorrow as often as it offers laughter and joy, that sometimes, even good things are hard to bear.
But this I know: these things – an hour of quiet, with the burbles of a baby, the calls of the birds, the rustle of leaves the only sounds to break the silence; a walk under the pines and the oaks; the clear azure sky, the balmy warmth of the sun on my legs and my face, the hint of air playing on my skin; baby laughs and smiles, and the way she reacts to my voice; holding her close, her sweet skin against my arm, her lashes dark on her cheek, her breathing soft and relaxed – these things are good, oh-so-good.
Motherhood – or rather, life – is full of interruptions, of unexpected goods that can derail my peace, cause me to long for that which I expected instead of cherishing what I’ve been given. May I revel in the given good, turning to it and accepting it, with an open heart and open hands, ever grateful to the one who gives.