But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. Isaiah 49:14-16
My husband and I recently decided to cut our son’s “dream feed” and stop nursing in the middle of the night. Since December, he had been waking up nearly every night some time between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. — and when you share a room with your baby, it takes a toll. We were assured that at nine months, our son was ready to be weaned from this middle-of-the-night feeding, but I wasn’t sure I was ready (and then I remembered what a night of uninterrupted sleep felt like).
I can’t write for all mothers, and honestly I wouldn’t even try because not only is that impossible, it’s dangerous territory. But for me, after the first weeks of pain and frustration while my son and I tried to find our rhythm, I came to truly enjoy breastfeeding. My son’s feedings became a strange oasis of calm and contemplation in an otherwise relentless day of having to rise to every occasion. Being forced to sit still, while snuggling a baby who thinks you are the source of everything felt like a gift.
During those nursing sessions, I would gaze at this miracle in my arms, this marvel that my body made and then gave to the world. I would imagine what the future could hold for him. And I would also pray. A few verses would come to mind now and then, and none more on the nose (or the breast) than Isaiah 49:14-16. Over time though, my meditation on them began to shift.
For a long while, during hard seasons of life, I would relate to Zion. feeling forsaken by the Lord. I thought in those times that I was like the baby at the mother’s breast, hungry and needy.
But now I was cast in a new role. I was the mother. And without fail, nearly every time I would go to nurse my son, he would start to pant (sorry if you’re reading this one day in the future, kid) and whimper when I brought him near my breast. If I didn’t move fast enough for him, he would whine or cry out of impatience. It would make me laugh — I was literally in the process of giving him exactly what he both wanted and needed, but it was as though he’d forgotten that I’d always done this in the past. Like, in the past two hours!
But rather than getting annoyed with my son for whining, I would try to reassure him and help him latch as soon as I could. I would absolutely revel in holding that baby close feeding him. When he grew older and more aware of me, I loved how he’d reach out his hands to stroke my face or my chest, or want to lace his fingers into mine. I loved how he’d play with my hair and laughed when he’d try to stick his fingers up my nose. It was a moment just for us, but it was also a mother’s privilege. After all the work and pain and sacrifice, it was my honor to be his everything.
There’s no way I could imagine forgetting this baby nursing at my breast. Not only wouldn’t my body allow me that, feeding my son wasn’t an obligation or a duty. It was a time I looked forward to with joy. Even those middle of the night wake-ups were still one more opportunity to snuggle that sweet little boy.
It struck me that perhaps this experience of joy as I fed my son was a tiny taste of what God experiences with us. God is sometimes referred to as El Shaddai, “God All-Sufficient,” which is close to the Hebrew word for breasts. If I can delight and revel in providing for my son, though I am a flawed and broken human, how much more does God delight and revel in getting to be my Everything? Does Jesus look at the scars on his hands and celebrate the honor of being my Person, an honor that is entirely his because he paid for it with his body?
In those moments when I feel my greatest need of the Divine, I now see God joyfully pulling me close, away from all the other “gods” that clamor for my attention. I see myself wanted, desired, delighted in, and deeply loved, and I know that everything will somehow be OK.
In those moments, I remember that just as my body responds to my son’s need and gives him whatever he requires for the day through my breastmilk, so God knows what I need and exactly how to provide it. And maybe he’s even honored to do it.
Still, as I contemplate this new phase we’re entering, of more solid foods and less Mother’s milk, I hold Psalm 131 in my heart alongside Isaiah 49:15. That psalm speaks of David learning to soothe himself “like a weaned child with its mother.” If, with God’s help, I do my job right, my son will remember that I always joyfully took care of him in the past and will delight in doing so again. Through this act of nursing, I’m teaching my child to trust me and to find me faithful to him. I pray that he and I will both be able to fully know God’s delight in us and joy in being our All Sufficient One. And may we both be settled in that truth.