Heartquake

A gift Brittany made me for Father's Day

Until the moment my first child was born, I didn’t have the capacity to love a child. I know this because of the magnitude of the heartquake I experienced when I first saw her. In that moment, everything began to shake. All of my assumptions about myself. All of my selfish worries that I couldn’t fit a child into my life. Layers of prickliness that had enshrouded me for years. And along with the shaking was a kind of melting. In just a few seconds, the person I was melted down and ceased to exist. In its place was a brand new man — a man capable of feeling extremely deep emotion, even of crying; a man in love with a tiny baby; a man swept away by something he had never known before, and quite okay with that; a man who was suddenly able to see himself in relationship to a child; a man connected to this child in a way he had never been connected to anything.

Yesterday another heartquake began as we helped her move into her room at college. Only this heartquake is different. The heartquake when she was born felt amazing and liberating and joyful. This one aches. The first one felt like I had just gained the world. This one feels like I have lost so much. In the first heartquake, I attached effortlessly to this child. With this one, I will fight a great battle to let go. The first one brought fulfillment. This one is a struggle against giving in to a sense of emptiness.

I keep reminding myself that we’re not the first parents to do this. My own parents did it. This morning I was startled to realize that when you walk through any public place, many of the people you see have waved goodbye to a child as they left the nest, and have lived to tell about it. Most people have carried that wound. I take comfort in this, but of course my struggle remains.

So my plan is simply to feel the pain, and allow the fire to rage for a while. I realize this heartquake hurts as badly as it does because it is fueled by the same explosive that caused the first one. Love. It just burns in a different way. And I realize that just like hundreds of millions of other parents, I too will learn not only to carry this wound with grace but to take joy in it. I know it will make me stronger, more compassionate, and grant me deeper wisdom.

I know I’ll get there. But for now I must respect the size and significance of this quake and not attempt to minimize it or make efforts to control it. My mantra for now is those famous words of Martin Luther: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And I cling to what I teach those in my congregation. We must live in the expectation that what is on the horizon will be greater — not lesser — than from where we have already come. That is my hope and my expectation. But right now, I’m in the middle of a quake, and all it is appropriate to do right now is hang on tight and wait until the shaking settles down.

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