Love Babies

She doesn’t even know my name, but Eden Snell lights up my life. Born to Pastor Nick and his wife Deanne, who happens to be my office manager, she’s the newest addition to the REACH church plant here in Philadelphia. The juxtaposition of Eden’s baby chub against her mother’s uber-slender build makes me think of the little chub-a-lubs I once toted around. People asked if Alison stored oranges in her cheeks; they called Kimmy the Michelin tire baby. I wasn’t insulted in the least, because babies should be chubby. They’re so small! It only takes one prolonged fever to reduce them by one-third. God packs on the pounds to help them start strong.

In preparation for a sequel to my last book, I’ve been studying bonding—human relationships. Specifically this week I’ve studied the mysterious and sobering topic of attachment, particularly attachment early in life and how it impacts the entire life span. I have realized as never before how essential it is to love babies. In His plan, God packs on the pounds in more ways than one. In those early years, He provides emotional calories to the tiny members of the human family as a means of literally building their brains, and to a greater or less extent, their futures.

In the mid 1900s, attachment theory revolutionized the field of psychology, which theretofore had tended to short-change the issue of intimate bonds formation. Now the importance and long-term effect of bonding in childhood became better known. We saw that in the first three years of life in particular, the attachment of infant to mother “provides the working framework for all subsequent relationships that the child will develop.” Attachment theory author John Bowlby studied World War II orphans and noticed the social and cognitive problems they manifested as a result of lack of this infant bonding. He learned that a child must develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally. Neuroscience has since shown actual black holes in brain tissue that develop as a result of lack of touch stimulation in infancy. The loving interaction of the child with the caregiver literally grows the relational genius of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, from almost nothing in infancy to a vibrant mass of sizzling connections in adulthood. The healthy growth of this part of the brain is not automatic—it requires a rich and stimulating environment. Affection shown to baby releases growth hormones that swell the brain to its true capacity. Subtract that affection and the brain remains a shadow of its potential.

The effects of deprivation cover a devastating spectrum that features on one end difficulty trusting, lack of empathy, and poor impulse control, to, on the extreme end, serious developmental delays and even sociopathy. One expert said, “Children without touch, stimulation, and nurturing can literally lose the capacity to form any meaningful relationships for the rest of their lives.” It’s no wonder Ellen White said, “The first three years is the time in which to bend the tiny twig. Mothers should understand the importance attaching to this period. It is then that the foundation is laid.

Think about it. Why else did God make babies squeezably soft and cute? Why else did He program into mother a flood of post-partum oxytocin, adding more to mother’s milk to help the love flow both ways? My titular imperative “Love Babies” seems unnecessary given that it’s hard not to. But even the powerful momentum built into nature can be interrupted by addiction, abuse, mental illness, and just plain sin.

Right about now you may be palpating your skull for evidence of black holes. You may be reflecting on the lack of childhood nurture and bonding that perhaps delivered you to where you are today—someone who struggles with relationships. You might connect the dots between home of origin love-deficiency and your own character deficits, but find that your set of crayons just can’t color in the gaps. I want to inject a little hope. The shadows exist because of light. Every sad consequence of a violated design reveals a Designer. And we have a merciful Designer, a resourceful Designer. He can rebuild our brains and show us how to love. Begin with Him, because learning to trust Him who is 100 percent trustworthy is the best place to start.

Go now. Pray as He taught us to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.” This can be paraphrased, “Loving Father, you’re different than anyone I’ve ever known.” Let your connection to God become a new beginning. It’s no mystery that Jesus described this as being “born again.” Could it be that He will re-parent those of us who didn’t have Eden (the garden or the baby)? Could it be that He can fill in the black holes with His own luminous love? Could it be that He knows how to love babies?

9 thoughts on “Love Babies

  1. Julie

    Love how you describe the rebirth experience and the complete healing our Father in Heaven gives us…..AMEN, AMEN, AMEN! What hope! What promise! I will be sharing this in Sabbath School.

  2. Angelo

    Great piece Jen.

    Thinking about the multi-sensory aspects of the affection experienced by babies (touch, voice, warmth, scent).
    Could it be that by limiting devotional practices to reading and praying, some of us miss certain aspects of God’s affection?
    There was nothing more multi-sensory in the Jewish economy than the sanctuary. While the symbols are consumed in Christ, I wonder if there was something to the texture of the priestly fabric, the scent of burning incense, and the safety of the outer curtain, that we might not take more advantage of in our devotional practices today. Not that I’m going out and buy the next shofar I see or anything! We have e-bay for that 🙂

    Have a great day!

  3. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Angelo you make a great point. Yes. When we try to make church more sensorially significant, though, some object that it’s “too Catholic.” But music, singing, hugging, beautiful flowers, scented candles, and more can all be done without much expense or effort. Why not? Shouldn’t the organized worship of God be the most attractive and satisfying thing on earth? The mind tends to retain more when multiple senses are engaged.

  4. Jennifer Jill Schwirzer Post author

    Julie I encourage myself in the Lord and it spills out to other people. Thanks and courage.

  5. Kenneth Martin

    Jennifer, for some reason I cannot access the link on my iPhone. So let me say this a brilliant piece and well needed! And over the years I’ve really seen your prose mature into compelling reading. Praise the Lord and kudos to ya.

  6. Tom Kohls

    Jen,

    I want a do-over, for myself and my kids! Now they can say (as I said about my parents) “They did the best the knew how to do.” And the only way I can make it up now is to hug and love the grandkids. I do like the thought that God rebirths us so we can be nurtured by His infinite love in place of our parents(or our own)finite love. It’s what our brains need most!

    Tom

    P.S. Was the line “My titular imperative “Love Babies”” a pun or a slip of the self-editor?

  7. Jennifer JIll Schwirzer

    Tom, I’m with you. I think all of us need a second chance, on both the child and adult end of the life cycle. Thank God He gives it, huh? The titular imperative line was kind of a pun. I meant, “In the title I said to love babies, but it’s hard not to.” “Love babies” is a play on words–we’re love babies (adjective), we should love babies (verb).

  8. Anonymous

    Wow!!! What a powerful newsletter. It has rang true in my life. But as you say, “God can rebuild our brains and teach us to love.” He is healing my broken love-cup (or as you would say, He has adopted me as His “lovebaby”). Praise God. He is teaching me how to love.
    Thank you so much for all of your hard work and for being a blessing in my life thru your writing. God bless you and your family. Praying for Alison Brook and her ministry in music also. My eldest baby will be turning 31 years old tomorrow!!! Seems like yesterday.

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