What Breastfeeding Taught Me About Faith

By Sharon Hodde Millermom with baby

I wish I could say that I was one of those women who loved being pregnant. I wish that every day prior to my son’s arrival was filled with happy anticipation. Now, it’s not that I didn’t have days like that. I did. Some days I was beside myself with excitement, and some days I gloried in the glow of pregnancy and the kicking child within my belly.

Other days, however, my face wasn’t so much glowing as it was green. And while I loved the baby inside me, I also knew that that baby had to come OUT, the logistics of which seemed very tenuous to me. I remember going on a hospital tour with my husband and, when the nurse explained the protocol for “vaginal deliveries,” I turned to my husband and asked, “So, that actually works? Like, babies can actually come out that way?” I just wasn’t convinced my body could pull that off.

But most of all, the main challenge I faced during my pregnancy was fear. Between fears about the baby’s health and fears about labor, I found myself turning to God more than ever before. I had fear about almost every aspect of this new season of life.

One fear that surprised me was a fear of breastfeeding. I wasn’t afraid that Isaac would struggle to nurse; I was fearful about the commitment itself. In my mind, breastfeeding seemed like a prison. No one else could nourish my son the way that I could, a responsibility that is both meaningful and sobering. And boy was I sobered! I wondered if I would ever be able to leave my son’s side for 6 months. I worried that I would feel tied down, stuck.

As I grappled with my fears of being tethered—both physically and emotionally—to my son, I began reading a book by Sarah Jobe titled Creating with God. In it she explores the spiritual parallels between pregnancy, breastfeeding, and abiding in Christ, and I found the analogy to be profound. It also recast my entire perception of breastfeeding.

In the act of breastfeeding, a mother is not simply offering food from her body; the baby is feeding of her body. In fact, if a woman fails to consume enough calories while nursing, her body will pull the necessary nutrients from her body in order to give the growing child what he needs. In a very real sense, the child is feeding off of the mother’s body.

Now consider how similar this relationship is to the Christian faith. We consume the “body” and “blood” of Christ in communion. Jesus also refers to himself as the “bread of life” (John 6:35) and the source of “living water” (John 4:10). In short, to be a Christian is to gain your spiritual nourishment from Christ. As strange as it sounds, we are to feed on God.

What makes breastfeeding such a uniquely powerful analogy to this kind of “feeding” is that babies feed on their mothers without consuming them. Although a child feeds on his mother, his feeding does not destroy her. Likewise, Christians are fed by Christ, the bread of life, without ever depleting him.  When it comes to spiritual sustenance, we will never run out of nourishment. We will never have to turn elsewhere. Christ is more than sufficient to satisfy the hunger of our souls.

To take the analogy even further, consider how deeply dependent a child is upon his mother during pregnancy and early life. Not only does he depend on her for growth, but for his existence.  And isn’t that the very picture of abiding? In the same way we are called to “abide” in Christ (John 15) and affix our branches to his ever-nourishing vine, isn’t that what a child does in the womb and at the breast?

That “abiding” aspect of nursing is the reason I feared it. However, this new perspective was a life-giving one. Now, when I wake up groggy-eyed to the hungry grunts of my little boy, I am reminded of what, I suspect, God designed our relationship to point to. And as I hold my son and realize that he has literally grown in my arms while feeding from my body, I can’t help but think that I am to do the same with God.

My son abided in me for 9 months, and continues to depend on me now. He is only 4 months old, but that is one important spiritual habit he has already taught me.

Image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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