When our youngest was born (it’ll be 27 years ago on April 18th), my husband held Chase in his arms and cooed, “We love you so much, and you haven’t done anything cute yet!”
Fast forward a few years. We lived in a lovely little home with exposed beams and stucco walls. On the landing of the stairway, there was a significant crack from the settling of the house over time. Along that fissure the stucco jutted out – a mini tectonic plate shift. If one were inclined to pick at things, this provided great temptation. Three-year-old Chase didn’t see it as temptation but an opportunity suited to his curiosity. He plucked away at the stucco until there were shards of plaster on the carpet and lath exposed in the wall.
Within minutes I saw the mess and damage and bellowed an annoyed and mighty “Arrrgghhhhh!”
Chase heard this and absorbed it into his tender heart. “You broke my feelings!” he wailed.
Immediately I saw that it wasn’t Chase’s stucco plucking what was the problem. It was that my umbrage bruised his little psyche.
Quick intervention with hugs and cuddles seemed to salve his emotional wounds and eventually spackle and plaster took care of the wall. Chase has no memory of this encounter so he has either suppressed it admirably, or he successfully shook it off at the time.
These episodes came back to me recently as I listened to Dr. Bruce D. Perry’s The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook–What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing, originally published by Basic Books in 2006. Overall my kids were marinated in love and have grown into fine adults. The experiences of the children in Dr. Perry’s book were at the other extreme.
Using case studies from his generations of heart wrenching work with the most severely traumatized children, Dr. Perry’s book is a revelation. Publisher’s Weekly nails it with this blurb:
“In beautifully written, fascinating accounts of experiences working with emotionally stunted and traumatized children, child psychiatrist Perry educates readers about how early-life stress and violence affects the developing brain. He offers simple yet vivid illustrations of the stress response and the brain’s mechanisms….The stories exhibit compassion, understanding and hope as Perry paints detailed, humane pictures of patients who have experienced violence, sexual abuse or neglect, and Perry invites the reader on his own journey to understanding how the developing child’s brain works.”
While the book is replete with fascinating stories and insights into the impact of childhood abuse and neglect, one of Dr. Perry’s conclusions resonates especially strongly with me:
“For years mental health professionals taught people that they could be psychologically healthy without social support, that ‘unless you love yourself, no one else will love you.’ Women were told that they didn’t need men, and vice versa. People without any relationships were believed to be as healthy as those who had many. These ideas contradict the fundamental biology of human species: we are social mammals and could never have survived without deeply interconnected and interdependent human contact. The truth is, you cannot love yourself unless you have been loved and are loved. The capacity to love cannot be built in isolation.”
This scripture comes to my mind:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10 (World English Bible)
God’s first act – or rather the state of His Being – is loving us. Seeing how crucial human love is for babies and what can happen without it, I wonder how our spiritual selves can grow up whole and healthy unless we have some sense of God’s love for us. Would the fractured and broken places in our souls heal if we understood that better?
I know I get shivers when I read Romans 8:38-39, one of my all time faves:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, or powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And, since Dr. Parry reminds us that “the capacity to love cannot be built in isolation,” how can we share with others a sense of God’s kickstarter love – regardless of the cute things they do or don’t do?
I now find even more oomph behind the superlative-laden answer to the Pharisee’s trick question for Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God will all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
I have quoted from two books in this post. I highly recommend them both.