Chalk it up to feeling a bit sentimental as my wife and I enter the final stretch of waiting for baby number three (most likely our last prenatal go-round). Or maybe it has to do with the increasing number of conversations I’ve been having with young couples perplexed by why anyone would ever want to reproduce, given the obvious insanity of the contemporary parenting treadmill and the (largely recreational) venting that occupies so much online real estate. Or perhaps it’s that I’m trying to think of something to say this Sunday about Naaman, the leper-warrior who, at the prophet Elisha’s behest, begrudgingly “went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan… and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:14). Who knows, could be down to the fact that VBS just wrapped up, and the phrase “children of god” is still ringing in my ears. Whatever the case, the following quote from Alain de Botton’s new ‘novel’, The Course of Love, brought a tear to the eye:

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Children may end up being the unexpected teachers of people many times their age, to whom they offer–through their exhaustive dependence, egoism, and vulnerability–an advanced education in a wholly new sort of love, one in which reciprocation is never jealously demanded or fractiously regretted…

Children teach us that love is, in its purest form, a kind of service. The word has grown freighted with negative connotations. An individualistic, self-gratifying culture cannot easily equate contentment with being at someone else’s call. We are used to loving others in return for what they can do for us, for their capacity to entertain, charm, or soothe us. Yet babies can do precisely nothing. There is, as slightly older children sometimes conclude with serious discomfiture, no “point” to them; that is their point. They teach us to give without expecting anything in return, simply because they need help badly–and we are in a position to provide it. We are inducted into a love based not on an admiration for strength but on a compassion for weakness, a vulnerability common to every member of the species and one which has been and will eventually again be our own. Because it is always tempting to overemphasize autonomy and independence, these helpless creatures are here to remind us that no one is, in the end, “self-made”: we are all heavily in someone’s debt. We realize that life depends, quite literally, on our capacity for love.

We learn, too, that being another’s servant is not humiliating–quite the opposite, for it sets us free from the wearying responsibility of continuously catering to our own twisted, insatiable natures. We learn the relief and privilege of being granted something more important to live for than ourselves.