The psalmist wrote:
I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. (Psalm 131:2)
In the hours after my daughter was born, I sat holding her and marvelling at the tiny, perfect, new person. I traced a finger over her feet, and realised that as soon as she learned to walk on those feet, she would be walking away from me, to explore the world; at first beyond her blanket, then beyond her home, to school, to work, out on a date; perhaps one day, down an aisle to marry, or to make other significant life commitments. It was my job to hold her hands while she learned to walk, and then to let them go, so she could.
This process of letting go, this transition to a state of greater maturity, is not a once off in life. We do it over and over and over again, with each stage of development, each shift in identity. It can be emotionally fraught, both for the parent and the child. As the child becomes an adult, that inner tension at times of transition does not disappear.
And yet, between these times of transition, there are times of quiet and calm. Times when, like a weaned child resting on its mother, there is peace for the soul.
Of course, so many of the people we encounter in ministry have in common that they are not in times of quiet and calm for the soul. They are growing, learning, changing, being challenged and rising to the challenges. Or they are confronted with illness or injury, and often a profound shock to their sense of identity. What was once reliable can seem to be shaken, and one can have a sense of starting all over again.
And yet, of course we are not really starting all over again. Weaning is not a second birth, but a milestone of greater maturity. Even aging, illness and death are a normal part of human life. What is needed, in the turmoil of change, is the wisdom to recognise the development that has taken place, and the openness to embrace a new diet.
These, the psalm seems to suggest, are gifts we might bring to caring for one another. As we look for the signs of growing maturity, and of openness to change, we can hold in trust the hope of new times of quiet and calm, like the weaned child with its mother.
*Psalm 131:2 (NRSV)