That Adorable Smile
She woke me up at one thirty in the middle of the night. I fed her and she promptly spit up on my shirt. I patted her on the back until she burped and she sneezed on my face. Then she woke me up again at four in the morning. She screamed like a banshee and made me sleep walk around the house with her to soothe her. I wiped the poop off her bottom and changed her into clean clothes. She thanked me by peeing all over her clean clothes while the diaper was off.
And then she smiled. And nothing else mattered.
Parenting a child is simultaneously one of life's greatest challenges and greatest rewards. My newborn daughter has no idea how much I do to care for her. Without me, she wouldn't even exist in the first place. With no understanding of object permanence, in her mind I pop in and out of existence moment-by-moment, day after day. She has no idea that when I pop out of existence in her mind, I'm working to provide her with the home, food, clothes, transportation, and health care that she doesn't even realize she depends on to survive.
Even when she sees me, she probably doesn't understand most of what I'm doing to care for her. She doesn't understand that when I stand away from the crowd at an outdoor party to keep her in the shade, it's so that she doesn't get sunburned. She doesn't understand that when I splash water on her face and scrub her with a washcloth, it's so she stays clean. She doesn't understand that when I shove that eyedropper her in her mouth and squirt some medicine into her throat, it's to keep her healthy. The myriads of tiny actions that I do all day long are taking care of her, keeping her healthy, and keeping her safe, and she has no idea.
There are probably some things she does understand. She understands that when her stomach hurts and I put a bottle in her mouth then her stomach stops hurting. She understands that she likes the way it feels when she's in my arms. Even then she doesn't realize how I've come to know her as an individual so I do these things differently for her than I did for her sisters. I know to hold her at just the right angle, to bounce her with just the right rhythm that I know she likes. I can't even precisely articulate exactly what I do to soothe her, but my body instinctively holds and moves her just right. I know her intimately and care for her deeply, and at best she might have just a tiny bit of an intuition of what that is.
Caring for a baby is a lot of work. It requires being sleep deprived and being covered with every possible bodily fluid. It involves listening to screaming and crying sometimes. It means waiting to eat my meal so I can feed her first. Sometimes it means I give up an opportunity to do go out with my friends because I need to stay home and take care of her.
And then she smiles at me.
I don't think it's humanly possible not to smile back when you see a newborn baby smiling up at you. For that brief moment my heart flutters with joy and everything else in the world ceases to matter. It's impossible to be angry about any amount of previous crying, spitting up, or pooping when the baby flashes that adorable, toothless grin stretching as wide as her little face. Of course the smile pales in comparison to what I do for her. While I would miss the smile if it wasn't here I could go on without it. She depends on me for her very survival. Nevertheless the joy I feel from that simple smile is probably greater than all the joy she feels from the myriad of things that I do to take care of her.
I think we relate similarly to God our Father. Our Father in Heaven has done more for us than we can ever know or comprehend. We owe our very existence to God. Were it not for God, the very act of being would be impossible. Like I have come to know my baby intimately and I care for her differently than any of her sisters, our Father knows of each of us intimately, better than we know ourselves, and cares for each of our unique needs. Our Father pours out a myriad of countless blessings on us day after day after day and we probably only notice a tiny percent of them. It's probably not unlike the baby who recognizes a couple of the things I do for her but is completely unaware of the vast majority of what I'm doing to provide and care for her. We likewise are probably aware of some of the blessings from our Father, but completely unaware of so much more.
Like the baby spends a lot of time crying, pooping, and spitting up on her father, we probably spend much of our time doing things that don't bring God a lot of joy. Though Christ has set me free, I still allow sin into my life. Every sin I commit, no matter how insignificant, must be as disgusting to our Holy Father as the worst poopy diaper or the grossest spit up is to me. In spite of the sin that still exists in my life, there are moments when I do righteous actions as well. Everytime I sing a song of worship, do an act of loving service for my neighbor, spend a few moments in sincere prayer, or read scripture and reflect on God's presence in my life, God must feel some joy from my little actions like the joy that I feel when I see my baby smile.
My baby can never earn the care and protection I provide for her no matter how much she smiles, everything I give her is a gift freely given. Likewise we can never earn God's grace or mercy, these are gifts that are freely given to us. Nevertheless, when I spend time worshiping God I like to imagine him smiling back at me like I smile back at my baby. Imagining our Father smiling at me that way encourages me to spend more time loving God and loving my neighbor even if all of my acts of holiness are just token gestures in comparison to the infinite love and providence that God has given me.
As my baby grows older, she will eventually gain a deeper awareness of all that I do for her. Now that I'm a parent I am even more aware of all the sacrifices that my parents made for me, yet I still probably don't completely understand everything they've done for me and continue to do for me. Just as the baby eventually gains a deeper awareness all her parent do for her, I hope that I grow in a deeper awareness of all that God has done for me. When I do come to a realization of a blessing that God has given me, I take a brief moment to thank my Father and I hope that he sees my small prayer like a father sees a baby's giant, spontaneous, toothless, joyful, adorable smile.