One of my colleagues came to dinner with her delightful four-month old daughter a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say that my own mental well-being was greatly improved. An evening with a happy baby is as good as anything else I know for improving one's mood and outlook on life.
Biologically the only way the human race survives is that we have an instinctive protective and nurturing response to babies. One of the things I remember about reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes as a child was the difference in baby development between man and the great apes, and if Tarzan hadn't already been a one-year old baby, he never would have survived living with the apes. Humans take more time to develop and so our biological hard wiring requires that we respond to babies in such a way to nurture them, and that happens because we feel good when we take care of babies. Other research shows that we get an oxytocin surge around babies.
I work for an elder services agency, and we have noticed an increase in the number of clients with mental health issues, and are trying to address that. We also have some clients who are just plain grumpy. This project about the power of babies made me wonder if we could have mothers and babies visit these elders and see if they can help re-establish social connections and improve mental well-being with a good baby fix.
One of the strengths of Christianity, I believe, is the theology of incarnation, that God became human and dwelt among us. It was a Jewish scholar/rabbi that I read some time ago (and now I don't remember who) who pointed out the amazing wisdom of Christianity's belief in incarnation that God came first as a baby. Now I can be as Scrooge-like as anyone about the commercialization of Christmas—Halloween wasn't over and Christmas decorations could be seen in some stores, and now two weeks before Thanksgiving, every store has started having Christmas sales and Christmas decorations are up. But if we can be reminded by the Roots of Empathy project about the power that any baby has to change lives, I think that we might remind ourselves of why, as we approach Advent, we wait again for the baby Jesus, and tell the story of that child's birth again and again.
Reporters shared their observations about classrooms using the Roots of Empathy project, "Around babies, tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up." Believing that we are created in God's own image, it seems reasonable to project that when we respond to babies, we are responding to the divine essence. When we are most holy whole, we laugh; we can focus; we are open to the world and can be most truly ourselves.
We need more laughter in our lives. Children laugh any where from 200-600 times a day while adults only laugh 10-20 times per day. Yet laughter is truly one of the best medicines, and in use at least one of the world's most prestigious hospitals in their programs for stress management.
The Psalmist wrote this imperative: "Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth!" Do we really understand the power and value of that command? Laughter is one of the best of joyful noises! I used to receive a weekly email for people of faith with a sense of humor, called Rumors. Since its editor retired this spring, I have missed my weekly dose. No wonder it was such a tough summer. So I went back to the Rumor archives at WoodLake Books, and found this great story, that reminds us that one of the gifts that babies and children bring is the gift of laughter.
I decided to do some serious praying and promised God that if I could have a child, I would be a perfect mother, love it with all my heart and raise it with God’s love in my heart.
God answered my prayers and blessed us with a son.
The next year God blessed us with another son.
The following year, God blessed us with yet another son.
The year after that we were blessed with a daughter.
My husband thought we'd been blessed right into poverty. We now had four children, and the oldest was only four years old.
I learned never to ask God for anything unless I meant it. As a minister once told me, 'If you pray for rain, make sure you carry an umbrella.'
I began reading a few verses of the Bible to the children each day as they lay in their cribs. I was off to a good start. God had entrusted me with four children and I was going to do it right.
I tried to be patient the day the children smashed two dozen eggs on the kitchen floor searching for baby chicks.
I tried to be understanding when they started a hotel for homeless frogs in the spare bedroom, although it took me nearly two hours to catch all twenty-three frogs. When my daughter poured ketchup all over herself and rolled up in a blanket to see how it felt to be a hot dog, I tried to see the humor rather than the mess.
In spite of changing over twenty-five thousand diapers, never eating a hot meal and never sleeping for more than thirty minutes at a time, I still thank God daily for my children.
While I couldn't keep my promise to be a perfect mother – I didn't even come close – I did keep my promise to raise them in the Word of God.
I knew I was missing the mark just a little when I told my daughter we were going to church to ‘worship’ God, and she wanted to bring a bar of soap along to 'wash up' Jesus, too.
Something was lost in the translation when I explained that God gave us everlasting life, and my son thought it was generous of God to give us his 'last wife.'
My proudest moment came during the children's Christmas pageant. My daughter was playing Mary, two of my sons were shepherds and my youngest son was a wise man. This was their moment to shine.
My five-year-old shepherd had practiced his line, “We found the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.” But he was nervous and said, “The baby was wrapped in wrinkled clothes.” My four-year-old 'Mary' said, “That's not 'wrinkled clothes,' silly. That's dirty, rotten clothes.”
A wrestling match broke out between Mary and the shepherd and was stopped by an angel, who bent her halo and lost her left wing.
I slouched a little lower in my seat when Mary dropped the doll representing baby Jesus, and it bounced down the aisle crying, 'Mama-mama.'
Mary grabbed the doll, wrapped it back up and held it tightly as the wise men arrived. My other son stepped forward wearing a bathrobe and a paper crown, knelt at the manger and announced, “We are the three wise men, and we are bringing gifts of gold, common sense and fur.”
The congregation dissolved into laughter, and the pageant got a standing ovation.
“I've never enjoyed a Christmas Program as much as this one,” laughed the pastor, wiping tears from her eyes. “For the rest of my life, I'll never hear the Christmas story without thinking of gold, common sense and fur.”
“My children are my pride and my joy and my greatest blessing,” I said as I dug through my purse for an aspirin. “And maybe their gift to all of us is the gift of laughter.”
That story prompted me to look through my other humor links and I offer these cartoons about babies in honor of baby power.
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May you find a child to laugh with you this week, and be reminded of the divinity that comes in those small and wonderful packages. Savor the lesson of empathy and compassion that we can learn from babies around us, and pay it forward.