No Greater Love.

Both the baby and I had dodged the virus that had been pinging and ponging its way between the boys for nearly two weeks, playing the part of observers in the tennis match of doom: Whap - cough and runny nose. Thump - high fever. Whack - a bit of everything, plus stomach flu! Sure, I didn’t feel quite 100%, and the baby’s nose had been running. I was short-tempered, and she was fussy. But we weren’t sick.   

That is, of course, until the night when my body began to ache in a way that I couldn’t deny. It was the same night her nose started to run in earnest. We were goners. I said the best prayer I could come up with - pleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod nooooooooooo - and tucked her in early.

Later, as I dragged my weary self up the stairs, desperate for sleep, she began to cry.

I wish I could say that I heard her need, was infused with a superhuman level of compassion and strength, and rushed in joyfully to tend to her, but… that’s not how it happened. Instead, my own eyes started to tear up. I wanted to comfort her, sure, but I felt sorry for myself too. I was exhausted. I was sick. I was weary and worn down and powerless and spent, and then I felt guilty, too, because what kind of a mother worries about herself when her sick baby is crying?  

I shuffled into her room, scooped her up, and settled into the glider, mentally preparing myself for a long night. I shifted my little girl, suddenly longer than I remembered, from shoulder to shoulder, searching a comfortable position. Finally, I moved my butt all the way to the left, turned, and kicked my right leg over the glider’s arm. I cradled her the way I had when she was much smaller, holding her close to my chest, but letting her too-long legs dangle in the space created by my awkward, sideways sit. It was close, but not quite right. So I leaned back farther… and farther… and farther, finally hitting the perfect angle - for her - at approximately the same moment my back cried out NO!, but she seemed so comfortable, I didn’t dare move. Instead, I tilted my head forward, trying to compensate for my awkward angle, but all that did was put me in the most uncomfortable baby-holding position ever. 

Her little body relaxed as I began to gently rock the glider back and forth, back and forth, but I couldn’t find a peaceful place. Her breath, though slow, was still labored; I knew her body was aching, at least as much as my own. I could hold her, but I couldn’t heal her. All that I could think as I rocked back and forth was:

There is nothing I can do for her.

There is nothing I can do for her.

I had never felt so completely helpless in my life. It seemed the sum total of my years as a mother was captured in this moment: I gave her nothing, and I couldn’t even do that joyfully.   

Back and forth, back and forth we rocked, and my mind wandered back to the passage we studied at church the weekend before, the one so beautifully captured in the hymn we sang during communion: “There is no greater love, says the Lord, than to lay down your life for a friend.” When I was younger, the passage conjured up an image straight out of an action movie: me, bravely pushing my future child out of the path of a speeding car, jumping fearlessly in front of a bullet meant for my future husband. I could do that, I thought. With every passing year, as I married my husband and brought children into the world, I became more certain that I would lay down my life for my family, my conviction made easier by the growing belief that I would never actually have to. 

Then it hit me: that sacrifice was being asked of me, right there, in that very moment.  

I wanted to be in bed, resting my own aching body, but I was here comforting my baby. And it wasn’t just now; it was in every nighttime feeding, and every extra bedtime story. In every tantrum weathered, and every chicken nugget served. Laying down my life wasn’t about some big Hollywood action sequence. Instead, it was death by a thousand cuts. But it was no less painful, and no less transformative.   

Perhaps most importantly, the small, ongoing nature of the sacrifice hadn’t diminished its worth. There truly was no greater love I could offer my daughter than what I was giving in that moment: putting aside my needs for a time to address hers. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t heal her, or that I couldn’t care for her in perfect, joyful selflessness. It mattered that I was doing it, the best way that I could.

I continued to rock, back and forth, back and forth, even though she was asleep.

As my mantra changed just slightly, 

There is nothing more I can do for her.

There is nothing more I can do for her. 

The peace that had been so elusive the past few weeks spread out to cover me, too.

Written by Andrea Burkly. Andrea is a career woman turned stay-at-home-mother with dreams of becoming an author and a therapist. (She *may* have trouble deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.) Armed with a passion for telling the truth about motherhood, a lifetime supply of embarrassing and hilarious anecdotes about life with small children, and a keyboard, she is cautiously embracing this thing called “the internet” and sometimes blogs at The Me in Motherhood. She currently lives about two miles from where she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with her amazing husband, two wild boys and one darling daughter, and a dog the vet appropriately deemed “very strange” during his last annual checkup.