Dark Nights

My baby turned six last week.  Six.  She reminds me that it takes two hands to show her age now; the five fingers on one hand are not sufficient. She is my last baby. I know that now. I have spent much longer than most women in the baby-loving days of my life. There is a full span of 20 years between my new 6-year-old and her eldest brother. And there are seven children between them. That’s a lot of baby holding, a lot of baby rocking, a lot of time celebrating milestones like the day you finally need two hands to show an inquirer your age. One would think I’ve had my full.

And I have.I am filled to overflowing with the memories of warm, heavy heads of wispy curls asleep on my chest. I am filled with hours of wrangling car seats and perfecting carsickness prevention and coping strategies. I am filled with countless dark nights beside a child, coaxing her to sleep while willing myself to stay awake so that I can live in a grownup world for a few moments after she succumbs. I am filled with mornings begging grace and night times pleading for strength. I have lived this season to its fullest.

And still.

Still, as I watch my new 6-year-old finally sleep, I have the audacity to wonder about God’s plan. He creates a mother to fall head-over-heels in love with a child. He weaves a bond so tight and so true that she cannot imagine life without this small person in it all the time. She cannot imagine how one can become a mother, grow into motherhood, and then, one day, not have a child. All of them grown. How strange will be the days with no children in them.

All of this learning, growing, becoming — it’s not only the child who has done it all; it’s the mother, too. She has grown into herself in a role that is only adequately captured in the word “vocation.” All this becoming someone — and when she finally seems to fill the role completely, the house empties. The one thing that a quarter-century of parenting teaches: The present moment is fleeting, and the season of goodbyes is long indeed. They leave. They stop telling people their age using their hands because they don’t have enough fingers on both hands. And then, they go.

What’s the point, exactly?

The point is that mothers spend their babies’ childhoods drawing closer to the Creator. It’s the only survival strategy. We learn to lean. We learn we cannot — absolutely cannot — parent alone. We need Him. He is faithful. Sometimes, His parenting strategies aren’t immediately understood. But He is there, and He is wise and He is love. So do we worry that as the children go, so will He? That seems unfathomable, but that’s really what our desire to hold on to a season is, isn’t it? It’s the fear that the next season will be dark and cold. It’s not trusting God will continue be the good parent alongside us even when the house is still and quiet.

The truth is that in the sheer terror that comes with the letting go, the way we worry for our children and the emptying of ourselves, God rushes in. All the moments of mothering He’s done alongside us all these years gives Him credibility. We recognize Him because we’ve seen Him previously. He is swift and sure in the nights, not once bumping into doorknobs or wincing as feet strike errant Legos in the dark. He’s good at dark nights. He comes alongside in the black and gathers us into strong arms. He is the only sure shelter in the moments of stark realization that no matter how many children, this is a fleeting season, and we are ill-prepared for the swiftness of change.

It’s OK. Don’t be scared. God is there. He’ll stay with you until you rest easy.