My Child in the Stranger
I have heard it said that becoming a parent radically changes your perspective on life. I have found that to be absolutely true. It began as early as my first trimester of pregnancy, when I was feeling so exhausted and sick. I remember looking at every child around me and thinking, “Wow. Some woman went through this for every single one of you.”
And that was just the beginning. Since then, I have given birth, recovered from giving birth, spent several nights walking to the crib every half hour to make sure my newborn was still alive, gone two months without a good night’s sleep, worried through my child’s first fever, had terrible pain in my breasts, and touched more baby poop than I care to think about. And I know that this worry, this restless exhaustion, this love so deep my body aches–it is all here to stay with me for the next 18 years and then for the rest of my life.
In this new reality, I often find myself imagining the people around me as a children. When I think of how fragile my daughter seemed at birth and how vulnerable and helpless she continues to be, I marvel that any of us have made it this far, and I am struck by just how precious and special each of us is. With a new understanding of how much work it takes to raise a child, I have such awe at how much energy and heartache has been invested in each one of us. How much work has gone in to keeping each of us alive this long. And when I look at the friends and strangers around me, I can’t help but imagine a someone in each of their lives who has invested in them and loved them as much as I love my daughter.
Becoming a parent has also made me much more sensitive to suffering because I see my daughter’s potential future in every suffering soul. For the most part, growing up is a process in which every year, more and more potentialities in our lives become impossible. When I was a baby, I could have become anything. I could have been an Olympic gymnast or a military pilot. I could have died of a childhood cancer or been diagnosed with a debilitating mental illness. But as the years have passed, I have discovered that I wasn’t all that good at gymnastics. I have bad eyesight, so I will never be a pilot. I made it through childhood without getting cancer, and I am so far free of any debilitating mental health issues. But every one of these potentialities are still possibilities for my daughter. Her future could hold almost any beauty or tragedy.
Because I know this, when I see another person suffering, I can’t help but see a little bit of my own child suffering–her potential future. When I see people on the street suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, I know that they were once a beautiful baby, many of them loved deeply by a mom like me. I see my daughter in them. When I see discrimination against LGBTQ people, I remember that each is someone’s precious child, as I remember that my own daughter could be lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. When I hear stories of girls being kidnapped in Nigeria or teens drowning on a ferry in South Korea–when I hear of authorities having to restrain a desperate father who showed up in a swimsuit and tried to jump into the water to search for his child–I feel my daughter’s spirit in those children, and I hear my own terrified and grief-stricken voice in those of the parents.
All suffering has become far more real to me. And all people have become far more real to me since I began to love one little person like this. I’m guessing it is just a glimpse of the way God sees all of us. In each of us, including each stranger we meet, God sees God’s own child.
This morning, I would like to invite each of you to pray for one of God’s children who is a stranger to you. I invite you to call to mind a stranger in your life, someone you have seen on the subway, on the streets, on the news, in your workplace, cafe, or church. Someone who seems to be struggling with life. And just hold that person’s image in your mind, and picture them as a little baby. And imagine a person in their life who invested something in them, to whom they are or were precious. Finally, imagine how God has found them precious, from the moment they were conceived to their times of peaceful sleep as a child, to this very moment. And say these words from Isaiah 43 to them as you hold their image in your imagination:
But now thus says the Lord, she who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…
Isaiah 43:1-2, 4a