[Warning: Brief talk of cuddling in this post which may cause grown men to squirm.]
I’m a newlywed four years into marriage
The header photo for this post is certainly not Pulitzer-worthy, and perhaps a little disorienting. What are we looking at? Two things: You probably guessed that you’re looking up towards my baby in his crib. Towards the bottom are my wife’s hands wrapped around my arm, as we’re both lying down.
How does a guy find this photo noteworthy? A few nights ago, we placed a probably milk-drunk Leo in his crib. The boy loves late night mealtime if only for the grand opportunity it provides for him to crash into his mother’s arms like would a groggy tippler into his pillow at 3 a.m. Then I took our deliciously fluffy two-person sleeping bag and spread it on the floor so I could relax with Katie after a long day. And naturally we cuddled (don’t say I didn’t warn you)—probably only the second time doing so since Leo showed up. All we could see of Leo were his hands and legs batting the air and an occasional peek at his face.
And that was the setting for an unusual grace.
A curious thing happened when we had little Leo, which is a tad difficult to explain:
Leo is who each of us holds most often now, and he has become our new frame of reference. He’s tiny. We can easily discriminate the individual bones of his spine and ribs because he is not a very fat baby; in fact, he seemed more like the marathon runner of babies because of how defined muscularly he was at birth. And all this tactile and spatial feedback of our baby’s minuscule body has become our new norm. So as Katie and I rested there, we found ourselves inclined to ask humorous things of each other like,
Why does your back seem to be so big?
Why are your shoulders so wide?
Why does your forehead look so small?
How does your face take up my entire frame of vision?
Tiny Leo with his disproportionate, baby-huge forehead caused us to perceive each other askew, even though our marriage of more than four years should have solidified every subtlety of our physical appearance. Everything about my wife conveyed something markedly different even though she was all the same. Only in the days following our wedding have I considered my wife with such a fresh view. This was a thrilling, if sweetly awkward, rediscovery of the familiar.
She was new.
This simple moment of affection revived that world of discovery you get when you first come to love someone. Briefly I was able to receive someone I’ve known for almost nine years now as though we were beginning our journey again. It had all the exhilarating hints and character of love that had yet to grow old.
Our new baby, with all his attention-demanding cuteness and needs, did not diminish our love for each another. He did not create a barrier between our affection. He reintroduced us to the discovery process of love and awakened us to the idea that love never grows old; instead, it simply gives new life to older things.
A robust marriage spirituality prepares us for these moments
This is about much more than just having a turn of mind after an insightful experience.
I have heard people tell me that love is lost when your first baby arrives. A former co-worker asked about my life as a newlywed years ago. I told him how marvelous it was. When I asked him in return how his marriage was going he exclaimed bluntly, “It was great until we had kids!”
I learned that doesn’t have to be true: Love only seems lost because it has taken on a new form and a new purpose. Just as our new baby is a journey of perpetual discovery, so is love.
But this is about more than even being challenged to accept that love will change as we grow. This is a brief testimony to how these moments of insight are more easily accessible when we cultivate a strong ‘marriage spirituality’.
Marriage spirituality readies the heart for transformations of perception like this one. It is something that renovates our interior lives daily so we can access the maximal good provided in the most banal of circumstances: baby, crib, sleeping bag—that’s all we had to work with. A radiant marriage spirituality brings forth a continual rejuvenation of the senses and makes us aware of what I’ve come to know as “ordinary grace”. I’d love to be able to convince God that we should all have a glimpse of the beatific vision monthly and spiritual ecstasies every breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, and suppertime, but historically such a thing seems… improbable.
Instead, God indulges us with a more appropriate beatitude in marriage: the ability to see our settings continually through the eyes of Christ through grace. In fact, this marriage spirituality that I’m speaking of wouldn’t be a good one if it didn’t primarily mimic Christ. And like Him, it is manifestly incarnational; that is, it takes our minds and bodies and sees how they have been infused with the divine in all of our routine and humdrum circumstances. It reminds us of our ultimate goal of theosis, of divinization, as the Church Fathers called it, where God causes us to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). In what should have been a mundane moment of exhaustion, the divine Love transformed before me the image of my wife.
We’ll talk more about those theological things in time. But for today, I reverence this simple grace: My kid made me experience love like a kid again.