|Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)|
How we think of God, how we envision God’s disposition toward us is said to be the most important thing about us. A puritan by the name of Richard Sibbes was known for his vision of God as a life-giving, generative, warming sun. And in like kind, Sibbes was known to emanate the same disposition. He likened God’s love and goodness, his stance toward us, as “the breast that loves to ease itself of milk.”
What an interesting and curious—unconventional—image. When I read this description, I was instantly transported to memories of being a nursing mother. I loved nursing my babies. It was a sweet and tender time. I remember that deep and profound satisfaction of being able to provide nourishment for them; the incredible sensation of my milk “letting down” at the sound of their cry or the moment they began to “root” for the breast.
And it didn’t happen only with my babies. I could be in a grocery store minding my own business and hear an infant start to whimper. More than likely his or her mother was hurrying, trying to get the shopping done so that she could leave before she had to stop and nurse her little one. I would hear the sound of that baby, someone else’s baby, and it was not unusual to feel my milk begin to let down. Arms pressed tightly across my chest, I would move along, as quickly as possible, hoping not to leak milk.
As I read Sibbes description of the compassion and goodness of God as a “breast that loves to ease itself of milk,” it occurred to me that that is what happens within the heart of God when I cry; when you cry. His heart is moved with compassion and desire; his milk “lets down”; his desire to respond to our needs is aroused.
So why is it that far too often when we cry out for God, for relief to have our needs met it doesn’t appear that God comes running? I’ve heard half-a-dozen stories in the last ten days of people who are there. Right there. Praying, asking God to show up, to help them know he’s there with them in the darkness of their lives?
I’ve been there before, too—many times—times when I desperately needed and wanted God to alleviate the pain of my life or the ache in my heart. I wonder during those times how I can imagine the heart of God easing itself of the milk of love and desire for me while my circumstances or emotional experience or spiritual sense remains unaltered.
What I notice as I reflect is the “gap time” between my crying out and God’s intervening; his milk letting down. Sometimes the gap feels like eternity. Often it takes longer than I’d like. I want instant gratification, like an infant who wants what he/she wants when he/she wants it! I notice that God allows time to intensify my desire, ache, hunger. And I also notice that I’ve never starved to death.
In due time, like a mother moved by her baby’s cry, I have experienced the nurturing love of God fill my empty heart with love and warmth and care. So, for me, this image of a nursing mother is compelling and a hopeful way to think of God and what happens within God’s heart when I cry.
If you, like the individuals I have been with and stories I’ve heard the last ten days, are feeling as though you are in the dark, groping about and crying out to a God who seems indifferent, try contemplating God in this way. Know that God meets you only within your lived experience--within the reality of your life situation and your need for him. Imagine God’s heart letting down with love and desire for you. That IS his disposition toward you—not a waning mood or fleeting impulse. God is compassionate and responsive to you. What you are experiencing is the “gap time” before his milk comes.