But when that girl smiles, let me tell you–my heart becomes a puddle of love right then and there.
Babies start turning up the corners of their mouths in what we might call a smile from their earliest days. But usually that’s just their expression when they are able to get gas to move through their system. And even though it’s physiological and not the emotional response all humans look for, it’s still cute. I definitely tried to catch a picture of one of those gas-smiles and pass it off as “baby’s first smile.”
Every child is different, but with my three kids, somewhere between two and three months old, something changes. I’ll be chatting it up with Lucy while she is on the changing table, asking her about her night’s sleep or what she dreamed about, and then it happens. We lock eyes and I can’t help but smile–she is so beautiful! so tiny! so amazing! Her eyes squint in delight and she SMILES BACK AT ME. And I know that she means it, that she sees me and is so glad to see me. This isn’t just the gas-smile. This is a real, heartfelt smile, and it communicates her little baby heart of love to me. My heart goes into all sorts of flutters. Warm, ooey-gooey love splashes and saturates my heart. Yes, I have loved her since I found out she was growing inside me, but this is a dynamic–a dynamic of mutual love–that sets my heart on fire and fills me with a special joy. She loves me! She loves me back!
Yes, right now she loves me because I carried her for nine months. My voice is the one she knows best because she grew inside me and heard everything I did. I am the one who snuggles her, feeds her, wipes up her spit-up, changes her diapers, bathes her. She only knows that I am the one who takes care of her and she loves me for it. (She loves her daddy the same way, too.)
When I smile and she smiles back, it is like the sun is shining for the first time, truly. It makes me think of how the heart of God responds when I smile back at him. And then I think, well, of course! He has expressed this a little through John the Elder in 1 John 4:19–We love because he first loved us–and through the prophet Zephaniah in Zephaniah 3:17.
We smile at him because he smiled at us first.
And I think about his great love for me. God has been smiling at me for a long time, full of delight and love. I have been learning who he is, listening for the sound of his voice like Lucy has been learning to recognize mine. I have been receiving his care and surviving only because he takes such good care of me. And as we interact, he smiles over me and asks me about my night’s sleep, about the dreams I had. And all the while he is smiling over me. He sings little beautiful songs as he carries me throughout my day, like a happy momma caring for her precious baby.
And he cares for me for a long time before I can smile back. BUT WHEN I DO?? I can only imagine that his heart responds a little like mine with Lucy. What world of love is opened to us when I smile back at him? When I love him back in the little ways that I know how to?
Peter denied Jesus three times and then Jesus died. His heart carried around the weight of abandoning his best friend in the hardest time in Jesus’ life. In John 21, even though he has seen the risen Jesus, Peter goes back to fishing. Maybe he was just hungry or maybe he was seeking the solace of the waves, remembering when he walked on water with his best friend, or the time when Jesus calmed the storm.
He and his friends aren’t catching anything, and they hear a voice from the shore. “Children, have you any food?” And like children, they answer, “No.” Maybe they thought it was a beggar asking for scraps. But when person on the shore tells them to lower their nets on the other side of the boat, and they have so much provision that the nets start breaking, John finally gets it and tells Peter, “It’s Jesus!”
Peter goes wild, a little, I imagine, like a child weepy and desperate to see his mother after a long absence. He puts his clothes back on and dives into the water, swimming, swimming. He just has to be with Jesus. I imagine he was probably crying the whole way. In the water. Up on the shore. Into Jesus’ arms.
Jesus cooks them breakfast (like a good mama would for her babies). And after breakfast, he and Peter go for a walk. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Now, I have heard the sermons on the three different words Jesus uses to ask Peter and I know that this is commonly referred to as the “reinstatement of Peter.” Yes, I think all those things are good. But I can’t help but think about how excited Jesus was to finally have a conversation with Peter where they could talk about loving each other.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a first time.
“Yes, you know I do,” answers Peter. I wonder if Jesus’s heart feels like mine when Lucy and I lock eyes on the changing table.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a second time.
“Yes, Jesus, you know I do,” answers Peter. I wonder if Jesus’s heart feels like mine when Lucy’s eyes start to squint.
“Peter, do you love me?” Jesus asks a third time.
Peter gets a little huffy, grieved that maybe Jesus doesn’t believe him. But he still boldly declares, “Yes, Lord–you know all things, and you know that I love you!”
What delight flooded Jesus’s heart at that moment? What does it do to the heart of God to hear his little beloved one say to him, “I love you, too”?
When Lucy smiles at me–a true and genuine smile–because I have loved her and smiled at her and cared for her–what heights of joy I experience! My little girl loves me back!
I love God because he loves me first. I smile at God because he smiles at me first. Today, I want my heart to smile up at Jesus as he takes care of me, letting that little smile say to him, “Lord, you know all things, and you know that I love you!”