I walk into the kitchen from the garage, carrying an armful of things—a bag, a few books, a coffee mug someone left behind—on my way to distribute these and consider the afternoon climb, and one of my daughters presses into me, draping the now dangling legs, grasping me solid, clinging to me with now enfolding arms. “Mom and me, Mom and me, just Mom and me,” she says in a tiny voice, giving words to a vulnerable slice of emotion, some echo from a tender, baby place.
I smile at her, helpless, and then she notices the things and lets go.
“Wait,” I say to her, “let me just get these things out of my hands.” And for a moment or three after, I forget about the climb and just stand in the kitchen and hold her. Let it stretch, I tell myself. I have come to the time in mothering when I know that my children will not show me these inner spaces much longer. Or at least, the showing will not be the same—not this melting into me, not the safe admission that for a moment I just wish it could be you and me, you and me, you and me, the words rocking gently like a chair, and the two of us holding on to each other. So I stand just inside the door planting kisses on my daughter’s forehead, smoothing her hair with my hands. I pat her back with my mother’s hands, with a rhythm that feels as natural as a heartbeat.
For just a short time now, my daughter still believes my arms safe; she still sees my hands strong; she still admits that I know things she cannot yet know. For a little longer, she trusts me to show her the way; she listens when I speak; she believes I understand what she doesn’t, that I see what she can’t. She still asks questions about what to do, about how. She still places her hands in my own and says, “show me,” often just after a time like this, when I am only just holding her and smoothing her hair. For now, she still believes I can accomplish more than she can accomplish herself, more than she can imagine. But I know a time comes when she will have more faith in herself than she has in me. This is the natural way of things, that a child must venture out before they can return.
I feel my daughter’s heart beating against my chest. She presses her nose, her eyes, into my neck until I’m fairly certain no light could find its way into the seam between us. And it makes me smile, because I remember doing this to my own mom. I remember how it felt, how the compulsion burbled up from a well of need. When I was my daughter’s age, I could not have explained that feeling or the need behind it. I could not have expressed why when I tried to wrap myself right into her; when I could hardly stand to be anywhere other than right beside her. I would have been embarrassed to admit that a baby tender part of me still yearned to be held, that I still needed nurturing, that growing up felt like walking right away from safety but that this, this closeness reminded me she watched over and went with me, that she would teach me how to be okay. I wouldn’t have been able to express that then, but I know it now more clearly.
I lay my palm flat over my daughter’s ear. Let it stretch.
When my children were born, my mom came to stay. I have pictures of her sleeping in the rocking chair with babies in her arms, memories of her whispering animal sounds in their baby ears, and the impression of her arm around my shoulders. I leaned into her, a mother now myself, feeling the reemergence of this most vulnerable self, the part of me that didn’t know what to do but trusted that she did. Each time, when she left to go home, I cried from just that tender place. I cried into her shoulder, into that space in her neck, knowing she had taught me how to be okay, and that even though I didn’t know what to do or if I could, all her mothering had equipped me well enough to walk right away from safety.
I close my eyes and savor a moment the taste of my daughter, the feel of her hair on my cheek, her warmth, her breathing. Soon, she will pull way and the tiny voice will be gone, and she will ask, “What’s for supper,” as though we haven’t just been standing here this way, as though she doesn’t remember, as though filled, she can stand up straight and walk on. I feel that moment coming, the loosening of her arms, the moving of her head. And this is when God chooses to continue a conversation we’ve been having, talking the way He does, right in the middle of a moment, right in the middle of a thought, just right where we left off.
Don’t you see now, that this is faith? This is faith.
I asked God to teach me to live by faith. It began as a word—just faith, and that word turned into a phrase, and then, as I grew, it became a sentence, a question, a pleading. For so long I talked about faith and thought I knew what it meant to live it. But even though I knew the scriptures, the truth is that I only lived belief, and belief is not the same as faith. In fact, it is written, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder (James 2:19).” Believing that Jesus is, that God is, that the Spirit is—well, that’s important, but it’s not faith. Belief is only a part of faith. Now faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see (Hebrews 11:1), and the evidence of faith is how we live (James 2), and living by sight is its opposite (2 Corinthians 5:7). Controlling things, doing only what we can conceive of ourselves, isn’t faith. I can believe and yet still think that my following has to make sense to me. I can live arrogantly and apart, forgetting that I can’t see God’s armies on the hills (2 Kings 6:17) with my own eyes. But God has spoken it plain: For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith (emphasis mine, Romans 1:17).” So, hearing all this, I asked Him, “Teach me. Teach me, please.” And since then, we’ve had this ongoing conversation about faith.
So as my daughter begins to move away from me, it’s He who whispers, “This is why I said that unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).” What she places in you, it’s faith. If you live by faith, you live as one who still believes my arms safe; who still sees my hands strong; who still admits that I know things you cannot yet know. You trust me to show you the way; you listen when I speak; you believe I understand what you don’t, that I see what you can’t. If you live by faith, you ask questions about what to do, about how. You place your hands in my own and say, “show me.” You ask as you press yourself right into me, as you give words to the need, to the yearning for me that burbles up from within, as you say in tiny voice, ‘You and me, you and me, just you and me.’ By faith, you believe I can accomplish more than you can accomplish yourself, more than you can imagine. If you live by faith, this closeness is what you need, it is the reminder that I am enough, that I am with you and watch over, that you don’t have to know or understand to follow.
It’s the natural way of things, that a child must venture out before they can return. And as He teaches me, I finally see that all those years ago I thought I had come home, but I’d only journeyed part the way. He ran to me while I was “still a long way off.” He always runs to meet us returning (Luke 15:20). But I see now that we’ve only since been walking back toward the celebration at home, He and I. And all along the way, He’s been talking to me, touching me with His hands. I feel the impression of His arm around my shoulders. And it’s only been just a while ago that I finally said, “Father, I want to live by faith. Teach me. Teach me, please.”