Flame retardants in sleepers and mattresses. Hormones in milk. BPA, phthalates, vinyl and other new and under-studied plastics in just about everything on the market, from baby bottles to cloth diapers. Co-sleeper or crib? Moby wrap or stroller? To pump or not to pump?
If you’re a mom or a mom-to-be like me, chances are you understand this vocabulary. It’s an endless rote lesson in the language of fear, and it seems like there are new words invented daily.
My worries these days are like bird’s nests. I weave in strands of information from the Internet and library books, from hearsay and the advice of friends. Sometimes, the nests seem real and useful, all of that information adding up to a place where I can protect my baby from the complicated world she’s about to enter. I am familiar with this habit of my mind, accustomed to the way I distract myself from feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty with mounds of data and to-do lists. Oh, especially to-do lists. It looks like education, but it feels like panic.
Don’t worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. Even before I became a Christian, those words resonated with me. My church is making a wonderfully slow movement through the book of Matthew this year, and when one of our pastors addressed chapter 6, I was struck once again by the difference a little context makes.
Jesus is not talking about legitimate, present-tense worries—over a friend suffering from a debilitating disease, for example, or an eviction notice. He wept for His friends’ suffering, and He worked to alleviate the immediate needs of his disciples, feeding them when they were hungry and comforting them when they were afraid. Contrary to the ideas I had as an idealistic twenty-something, when I wanted to sell all my possessions and live the rest of my life out of a backpack, He’s not even saying that money and things are inherently worry-producing.
He’s talking about self-absorbed worry, obsessive concern with appearance and the opinions of others, and worry over potential problems—things that are not present threats. He’s talking about the trap of placing those things higher than our pursuit of relationship with God in His fullness. He wants to set us free from those kind of worries—but it’s hard to tell one from the other when we’re caught up in the swirl of them. When we’re busy adding one more layer to the nest.
This morning I turned once again to my to-do list, rather than the square of carpet on the floor and the early-morning light—the fifteen minutes of prayer I said I’d start with instead.
I haven’t talked to Jesus about my latest worries, but I think if I did He would tell me that this baby is going to be okay. That she will grow up in the same ailing world He walked through, and my best gift to her will be to show her love. To protect her as best I can, yes, but know that striving for some kind of false perfection will only intensify my fear, and lead me further from the path of peace I want so much to teach her about.
I hope when my daughter is born we will spend time looking at real bird’s nests, admiring real flowers. I hope she will know me as a mother who loved her unconditionally, because I have known that kind of love in Christ.