I used to think the passage in Hebrews 12 was really cruel — you know, the one that says God disciplines his children and chastens those he loves. I would read that and think, “What?” It sounded more mean than a good thing.
But then I read the Message version of that passage about a year ago, and it adjusted my perspective a great deal. Here’s a small portion of how it goes:
“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves.”
— Hebrews 12:7-8
The whole passage (vv. 4-11) is worth a read, but it was that word training that changed my understanding of that passage and the analogy of God as parent. Training implies a way to go. A way to be directed that’s for our good. A way we’re meant to be. And God is seeking to direct us there.
It made such a difference for me to hear it in the context of an irresponsible parent, too: someone who leaves their child to fend for herself. What’s loving about that? A child doesn’t know the world, doesn’t have knowledge or experience or wisdom to navigate her way through. And an unloving parent is one who doesn’t care, who leaves her to figure it out on her own, who opens the door to the big, wide world and says, “Have at it.”
The loving parent is the one who takes an active role in teaching, guiding, sharing, correcting, interpreting, and being with. The loving parent is the one who knows where the child needs to go — sees ahead of her to the necessary steps of her development — and walks her through those steps when the time is right. A loving parent helps a child through her growth with the wisdom and knowledge she doesn’t yet have for herself.
That’s similar to what’s happening when the night of sense descends.
John of the Cross describes it this way:
As the baby grows, the mother gradually caresses it less. She begins to hide her tender love. She sets the child down on its own two feet. This is to help the baby let go of its childish ways and experience more significant things.
As we discussed in yesterday’s post, the sweet time spent at the mother’s breast is right for a time. Its sweetness is as it should be, and the mother feels such delight in giving and sharing that time with her child.
But we’re not meant to be infants at the breast all our lives.
There comes a time when, for our own best interest, we must be set down on the ground in order to discover our limbs and muscles. There comes a time when we, for our own best good, must learn to eat more than our mother’s sweet milk. There comes a time when it’s right and good for us to learn to motor ourselves around.
It isn’t a lack of love on the mother’s part that brings that separation. It’s her love and maturity to move us along in our next necessary growth.
That’s what the night of the senses is about: a new period of our necessary growth.