Yesterday was my fortieth birthday. And while it has me reflecting on many things, one that keeps sticking with me is something that came up while I was in a recent class about how we connect to God. Especially on the day of one’s birth, thoughts of your mother are bound to surface, so here is mine…
When I was little, my mother used to give me a bath every night. Afterward, she would wrap me up in a towel and sing this little song: I love my baby, oh yes I do. I really love here, oh yes I do. I love her. I do. Janie McElwee, I love you. Every night. It is something I sing to the Little Giants now and they can sing of their own accord, they know it so well.
Many years later, while traveling between pastoral visits, I was talking to my mom on the phone, as we often did since we lived so far apart (in this case, Missouri and South Carolina). And the practice of singing that song came up somehow in our conversation. That day she told me that she wanted to make sure, from the very beginning, that I knew I was loved more than I could possibly imagine. Without limits. Without strings. Without conditions.
Pure love and grace.
That day I realized that my mother had perfectly reflected to me who God is throughout my childhood in that song. Even if not everything else was practically perfect in every way, her intention and the love I felt in her arms every night got the message through. And it has remained at the heart of who I understand God to be even now.
Somewhere along the way, I picked up a bit of Greek to explain what I mean. Thanks to renowned gospel of John scholar, Gail O’Day, I learned that when the beloved disciple was “reclining at Jesus’s chest” during the Last Supper, the verbiage used is the exact same wording that is used at the very beginning of the gospel of John when the author describes the eternal Word being “with God.” And the image the Greek really implies is that of a child draped across their parent’s chest, perfectly at rest, safe, fully loved and secure in whose and who they are.
Because we are meant for that kind of love – a love that has no bounds and puts no conditions upon us. A love that welcomes us as we are and joyfully walks with us, loving us into who we are becoming. That is what God does. That is what we are meant to do for one another – our children, but also our neighbors.