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Christ’s Care As a Mother’s Love

October 11th, 2023 | 8 min read

By Lara d’Entremont

In my infirmities and my darkest suffering, I wondered if God pushed me aside at times because I had become too needy. I wept too often and asked for too much help. I became a bother, a nuisance at the throne each day as the Holy Spirit comforted my soul and translated my prayers to heaven, and as Christ had to yet again bring my name before the Father. I shrouded myself. God already completed the greatest act of love possible for me by atoning for my sins and giving me eternal life where my ailments will be wiped away—how could I still expect more?

Yet if we look at human love, we can see that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I vividly remember the birth of my twin boys. After I left the recovery room, I sat back on my hospital bed, staring down into the eyes of my five-pound baby as his prominent rib cage expanded and retracted. My eyelids fell heavily, and each time they peeled away from my irises, gravity seemed to haul them downward yet again. My palms felt the bones protruding from his spine against his warm, reddish skin. The other baby, yellowed with jaundice, slept peacefully in the clear bassinet beside me. He was a whole two pounds heavier than his twin brother.

Over the following days, this littlest twin received an IV in his head for low blood sugar and had his tiny, bony feet pricked and sliced for blood samples multiple times a day. Both boys struggled to stay latched during breastfeeding and required supplemented breastmilk following each feeding. Meanwhile, I walked doubled-over, holding my stitches, limping around the hospital room and later my own home. My breasts regularly became engorged and then infected. Every two hours, night and day, I sat on the couch with a nursing pillow tucked around my waist and two warm bodies nestled against my sides.

While hormones and sleeplessness battered my emotions against the shore, my love seemed to burn hotter. Their frail frames made me want to keep them at my sides where I could shield them from any kind of harm. Their shrieking cries of panic, fear, gas, and desperate hunger felt like a knife to my heart. The littlest one often had spells of screeching at the top of his lungs as if in searing pain, and the only way to settle him was to grip him in a cross-cradle breastfeeding hold as I paced the room nursing. Wendell Berry captures these emotions beautifully in his novel Hannah Coulter:

I took her into bed with me and propped myself up with pillows against the headboard to let her nurse. As she nursed and the milk came, she began a little low contented sort of singing. I would feel milk and love flowing from me to her as once it had flowed to me. It emptied me. As the baby fed, I seemed slowly to grow empty of myself, as if in the presence of that long flow of love even grief could not stand.[1]

All I wanted was to absorb their every terror, take it upon myself, and add it to my own.

Thomas Goodwin, a puritan in England from the 1600s, wrote of this love in The Heart of Christ.

This love of his unto us is yet further increased by what he both did and suffered for us here on earth before he went to heaven. ‘Having loved his own’ so far as to die for them, he will certainly, ‘love them unto the end,’ even to eternity,” Goodwin wrote. He looked to the love of parents towards their children, particularly that of a mother’s love. Through her pains, hard labor, and travail for this child, her affection increases towards her child. “And then the performing of that office and work of nursing them themselves, which yet it is done with much trouble and disquietment, doth in experience yet more endear those children unto them.[2] 

Looking to Isaiah 49, where God proclaims his love for his people in their exile as greater than even a mother who nurses her child, Goodwin declared that this is one of the highest words of love. He went on to write that because Christ already put so infinite a stock of suffering for us, that if we could somehow become unsaved and require further atonement, “he could be content to be in travail again, and to [suffer] for us afresh.” Because of this, Goodwin declared, “Be assured then, that his love was not spent or worn out at his death, but increased by it.”[3]

My birth for the twins was traumatic—I suffered nightmares, flashbacks, and obsessive intrusive thoughts. Yet I know I would do it all again for them. If you’re a mom, you know you would too. Goodwin said that if as mere humans we can have such a love in our hearts for another, how much more could our perfect, merciful God who died for us and promises to carry us to heaven, love us? As John Calvin wrote,

By an appropriate comparison, [the Father] shows how strong is his anxiety about his people, comparing himself to a mother, whose love toward her offspring is so strong and ardent, as to leave far behind it a father’s love. Thus he did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, (which on other occasions he very frequently employs,) but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls them not merely ‘children,’ but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection. What amazing affection does a mother feel toward her offspring, which she cherishes in her bosom, suckles on her breast, and watches over with tender care, so that she passes sleepless nights, wears herself out by continued anxiety, and forgets herself![4]

When you doubt the love of Christ for your failing soul, consider your story as a mother, your own mother, or perhaps a woman in your life who served as a life-giving, maternal role in your life—think on how great their affection and grace, and consider how much greater your Savior’s love reaches out and covers you.

Two and a half years later, I hug one of our three sons to my chest as tightly as I can to keep him from bashing his forehead into the wooden floor. I shush and rock him, striving to tuck his golden head under my chin, but he thrashes and hauls it away, screaming louder against my gentle yet firm hold. I fight tears in my eyes. Let me take it, let me take the pain and anger. I wish I could soak up his wild emotions like my sleeve soaks up his tears and bear them in myself.

It seems that this boy’s brain works differently than his brothers’. He runs towards danger without looking back, he’d rather inspect the stroller than ride in it, he uses our own family-made sign language to communicate, and he requires specific routines before he can lay his head down to go to sleep at night. We’re enrolled in special programs and visit specialists multiple times a week. All the while, his smile remains as big as it was from the first time he grinned, and his joy over spotting an ant on the pavement still bursts with wonder.  

One night as I laid next to my husband below our bedroom window, I heard the thickness in his voice as he spoke about this son. “He’s just so sweet,” he said. “He’s still our smiley boy. But it’s hard and… scary.”

I rubbed his shoulder and back. “You’re afraid this is going to be a lifetime, aren’t you?”

He sniffed. “No, it’s not even that. I just… I just feel bad for him. I want him to have the same gifts of life that I have, like three baby boys and a wife and a job.”

I smiled. I knew those longings too. “He might not do the same things, but he can have the same joy he carries about him now, because he has a dad like you who loves him so well.”

He choked on a sob. “Thanks. Since learning of his struggles and possible diagnosis, there’s this different kind of love that has welled up inside me. You know what I mean?”

I nodded, thinking of those days in the hospital, holding my tiniest baby of all. I thought of holding my oldest son after we had been separated for six weeks when I went into preterm labor. I thought of the little one who slipped from my womb before reaching ten weeks, and the one after that who drifted away even earlier. I thought of holding our child as he tried to wrench his head from my grip to pound it into the ground.  “I do,” I whispered.

As I read more of Thomas Goodwin’s book The Heart of Christ, I couldn’t help but remember this moment with my husband. In the concluding pages of this book, Goodwin wrote, “There is comfort concerning such infirmities, in that your very sins move him to pity more than to anger … Christ takes part with you, and is so far from being provoked against you as all his anger is turned upon your sin to ruin it; yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease.”[5]

Goodwin writes of sins here, but our sufferings and griefs could be added here too. Our neediness, whether from need of further sanctification or to be sustained through a burning trial, draws our Savior’s love to us. As my husband pitied our son and saw how life had become more difficult for him, he didn’t recoil at his neediness. When our son was prescribed not one but two inhalers, my husband didn’t groan with yet another issue added into his life. He grieved for him and drew ever closer, wishing he could smite our son’s illnesses and difficulties and then gather him into his arms to heal him. This is how Christ looks upon us.

But we are not God—we cannot remove our boy’s infirmities. We can only draw near. Goodwin wonders at Isaiah’s words repeated in the Gospel accounts that Christ will “bear all our infirmities,” and he proposes that perhaps the way Jesus bears them is not by experiencing them, but by feeling the grief of them, just as he wept at Lazarus’ tomb.

As I hold the inhaler to my son’s face, as I cradle my sons in their sorrows, as I withhold my boys from harming themselves, as I remember their difficulty coming into this world, I’m learning to bear their sadness with them as Jesus did—and does—for me. I trust in Jesus’ selfless, often motherly care towards me, and seek to reflect even a glimmer of it to my family.

Footnotes

[1] Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter. (Berkley: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2004), 55.

[2] Thomas Goodwin, The Heart of Christ: The Heart of Christ in Heaven, to Sinners on Earth, ed. Thomas Smith and James Nichol, of Vintage Puritan Series (Louisville, Kentucky: GLH Publishing, 2015), 29.

[3] Goodwin, 30.

[4] John Calvin. “Commentary on Isaiah 49”. “Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/isaiah-49.html. 1840-57.

[5] Goodwin, 52.

Lara d’Entremont

Lara d’Entremont is a wife, mother, editor, and writer striving to weave the stories between faith and fiction. You can find more of her writing at https://www.laradentremont.com/