It’s 3 a.m. and time for another feeding, following on the heels of a day spent walking up and down the stairs in an attempt to quiet the rumbles of a tiny acid-reflux tummy. I soothe my first child back to sleep. Eventually the cries soften. Even then I continue to hold him, transfixed by the tranquility creeping across his face.
And then it hits me. Elijah will not remember this. He will not remember the days of unending tummy aches. He will not remember overeating to soothe his acid reflux. He will not remember me marching up and down the stairs with him during the daytime, a motion that’s inexplicably relieving. And he will not remember the nighttime routine—eat, cry, cry some more, and finally sleep—that took place at two-and-half-hour intervals. Even more unsettling: Elijah will not remember the joy with which I hold him at 3 a.m.
So much love goes unseen. The clothes get washed and the dishes done after little ones are in bed. Sleep is foregone for a sick toddler or a midnight-talking teenager. (The average mom loses two months’ worth of sleep during a baby’s first year of life.) Silent prayers are offered up for children morning, noon, and night. Work is attended to in order to provide for little ones’ needs or a 20-year-old’s college tuition.
As I consider the sleepless nights of early baby days and the acts of love and service my children may never comprehend, I am undone by this thought: How much of God’s love goes unseen? How much do I fail to see the God of the universe at work in my life, providing for all of my needs? Do I comprehend the creation, caretaking, and ultimate sacrifice of a loving heavenly Father? Do I take time to enjoy his blessing and provision?
The efforts of loving parents, valiant as they are, pale in comparison to the unseen acts of divine love. The Father God is always working on our behalf. As Jesus tells his disciples, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). He is the God who never sleeps or slumbers. But there are times when, like my small children, I cannot see his hands reached out in loving provision. There are times when his footprints of love are unseen.
Psalm 77 recounts God’s magnificent wall-of-water rescue. The banks of the Red Sea piled high as Israel walked on dry land to escape Egyptian slavery. Yet, amidst one of the most amazing rescues in all of history, the psalmist tells us that the author and architect of that grand plan—the Father God—was not always visible to the Israelites. “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen” (Psa. 77:19, emphasis mine).
Although the Israelites did not see God’s footprints, the path to freedom was God’s path: the path he had prepared and provided. Even when he was unseen, God was leading his people with the gentle hand of a caretaker, a shepherd, a Father determined to bring his children out of slavery and darkness into the broad places of light and life and sovereign protection.
And this was just as he had promised. As early as Genesis 28:15, the Lord proclaimed, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” And, in promising to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, the Lord’s words reverberate: “Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6, ampc).
The depth of a Father’s love
My heart hurts with the knowledge that Elijah may never fully realize the depth of a mother’s love. Part of me, it’s true, would like credit for all of those hours(!), but more than this, I want Elijah to know that he is worth every sleepless minute. I want him to know that any sacrifice pales in comparison to the joy of being his mom. I want him to know how treasured he is. I want his identity to be rooted and grounded in the knowledge that he is fully, deeply, and unconditionally (though imperfectly) loved.
How much more must the Father’s heart break when I fail to recognize the vast dimensions of his love for me—the overflowing, abundant, self-sacrificial love of a perfect dad? This Dad delights in me, saying, “This is my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.” This Dad promises never to leave me; He surrounds me, indwells me even. This Dad made the heavens and earth, provides all that I need, and promises never to let my foot slip. He upholds all who fall, satisfies the desires of every living thing, and is near to all who call on him. The One who never slumbers is ever vigilant, watching over us constantly as we come and as we go. We are his most treasured possession.
God the Father is at work not only in the grand rescues but also the mundane. When the bondage of sin and the brokenness of the present world overwhelm us, let’s not forget that the Father is always at work. We need not fear, for we know that he’s working for our good. His story is still unfolding—he’s orchestrating the most magnificent of victories—and his path always parts the sea, even when his footprints are not seen.
Adapted from Living Beloved: Lessons from my little ones about the heart of God. Used with permission.