When our first daughter, Laura, needed comforting during infancy, Nancy and I would usually use one of two phrases. When Laura was crying and we didn’t know why, when we had tried all the obvious solutions like feeding her and taking care of hygiene issues and she was still distressed, we would hold her and repeat over and over in the most empathic tones we were capable of—“Honey, honey, honey,” or “I know, I know”—nodding our heads as if we really did know. We generally didn’t know, but it seemed reassuring to say we did.
After a while, Laura internalized this. By the time she was approaching her first birthday, she would sometimes wake up in the morning and begin to cry; but instead of just making crying sounds like other babies, she would cry words to herself over and over, “Honey, honey, honey…I know, I know.”
Laura would cry them to herself with great compassion, nodding her little head just as she had seen us do. She was the world’s first self-comforting baby. Sometimes Nancy and I would lie in bed and crack up over the sound of a one-year-old reassuring herself: “Honey, honey, honey.”
But never for very long. When we would go into her room, Laura would switch to another phrase. She would poke her head up off her pillow (at that age she had just a strip of red hair that ran down the center of her scalp—it looked like a Mohawk haircut), raise her stubby little arms into the air, curl her fingers daintily toward us, and ask plaintively, “Hold you me?” The grammar was a little confused, but the meaning was clear and the request was impossible to refuse. Who could say no? The irresistible invitation. The universal cry of the human heart. Hold you me?
The connection that takes place between a mother and a child is perhaps the clearest picture in our world of what has been called the “human moment.” It creates a little circle of life: A mother ceases to think about herself and focuses on her child; she gives love and warmth and blessing and the child receives life. At the same moment, the act of giving doesn’t empty the mother; she receives the joy of pouring herself out in service and love, and she, too, is given life. The human moment reflects a kind of relational ecosystem in which life becomes greater and richer as it flows back and forth from one person to another.
Larry Crabb calls this process “connecting.”
When two people connect, when their beings intersect as closely as two bodies during intercourse, something is poured out of one and into the other that has the power to heal the soul of its deepest wounds and restore it to health. The one who receives experiences the joy of being healed. The one who gives knows the even greater joy of being used to heal. Something good is in the heart of each of God’s children that is more powerful than everything bad. It’s there, waiting to be released, work its magic.
Even an infant being held knows, with an understanding deeper than words, that what is being expressed with the body is in fact the decision of the soul: to hold another person in one’s heart. I will seek your good; I will share your joy and hurt; we will know a kind of oneness, you and I. It is the brief enactment of a covenant. It is a promise of self-giving love.
The work of building community is the noblest work a person can do. The desire for community is the deepest hunger a human being can have. It was the desire of Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain; the desire of Brian, age eight; the deepest longing of old Howard Hughes, if only he’d known it. — John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal till You Get to Know Them (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
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