Perfect and Imperfect Love

She weighs less than four pounds. Her tiny fingers and toes make me gasp in awe and wonder. She’s amazing really, to be born at 31 weeks in such a harsh environment and to make it this far. The purpose of her life right now is to exert as little energy as possible and drink as much milk as her little stomach will allow so that she can grow. 

Her mother is also fascinatingly beautiful. She comes from the Fulani tribe, which have distinct facial features and jewelry that make them striking. She does not speak any french and I don’t speak any of her language, so our communication is limited to a lot of gestures and giggles. 

This week I showed her how to do kangaroo care by placing her baby on her chest, skin to skin. The next thing I knew, the sweet mother was getting her tiny premie baby out of the incubator all the time without asking me. I also caught her attempting to breastfeed once, which promptly made the baby vomit. I gently corrected her and tried to explain with my hands and a gentle smile that she shouldn’t do that just yet. 

The baby in the incubator next to hers is much older and bigger, so I allowed that mother to give the tube feedings to her baby. Well, Fulani momma got the idea that she could do that, too, so the next thing I knew, she was pushing her baby’s tube feeds without telling me, and much too fast, again making the baby vomit. And so again, I gently smiled and explained that she shouldn’t do that either. 

But I have to give her credit. When that baby cries, she is attentive to her every need and does everything she can to calm her down, including breastfeeding…which I repeatedly tell her not to do and she knows it, so she tries to hide it and then thinks it’s really funny when I catch her and tell her (again) not to. She must think I’m absolutely insane to tell her she can’t breastfeed – like this white American girl who has never had children just doesn’t understand that this is the most essential part of being a mother! She just wants to see her baby grow. She wants to breastfeed her like any regular mother would. She really cares, and even though she does things wrong, I see how much she loves her baby and wants to care for her. 

I see Jesus in that. 

I see Jesus in the mother so tenderly caring for a fragile baby who can’t do anything for herself. The fascination in her eyes. The tenderness in her touch. She never leaves her baby’s side. Her love cheers her baby on to grow. Sometimes I feel so tiny and fragile and helpless in my father’s arms, but he cares for me so tenderly and perfectly. His love cheers me on to grow and trust him more as he provides for my every need and lets me rest on him. 

I also see a little bit of myself in that momma. Just as she imperfectly cares for her baby, so I imperfectly follow Jesus. I was just praying the other night, saying, Lord, I’m just not sure I’m doing some things right, especially when it comes to loving people and witnessing to them, but I hope you can see how much I love you as I’m trying. He is faithful to correct me on the things I do wrong, even with good intentions, and I repent, and then he shows me the right way to do it next time. What touches me more than a mother’s perfection is her love, and perhaps imperfect love is more admirable and honoring than duty-driven perfection.

There are still so many things I’m not sure I’m doing right, especially when it comes to evangelism in general and how to do it effectively in an African context and in my relationships and my job at the hospital, but I sure do love my job and the opportunities I do get to love and witness. And so I’m learning to just walk with Jesus every day. Like a toddler hanging onto her father’s hand, he leads me and counsels me. Instead of having all the answers, I just ask him to let me walk with him. And when I walk with him, I watch him and learn from him as we do things together. 

Maybe that’s why I love watching this momma love on her baby, because I see myself in the helplessness and fragility of her newborn, and I see Jesus in her in the way that she cares for her baby. In a similar way, the Lord nurtures me and helps me grow…only he does it perfectly. I also see elements of myself in the mother, imperfectly pouring out love in the best way she knows how, and when she is wrong, graciously accepting correction. It’s beautiful really, because it’s such a tangible picture of love. 

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