The prophet Isaiah assures the bereft of Zion that God will not – indeed, cannot – forget them. “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” the prophet asks rhetorically on behalf of the Lord. I assure you, a woman cannot. Her body refuses her such amnesia. While she may want to go out with friends, chaperone the older children’s field trip, make a boardroom presentation or preach while her nursing child is cared for by others, she cannot forget about that progeny no matter how much geography is between them. Before birthing and nursing children I read this verse from Isaiah sentimentally. How lovely, I thought. God, like a mother, remembers us, thinks of us, indeed loves us. How sweet, beautiful, warm and fuzzy. Then I had a baby. I learned what engorgement is. I got closely acquainted with cabbage leaves. Forget the baby I nourished with my own body? Impossible. Painful. At times agonizing. A woman, it turns out, really cannot forget her nursing child.
I had another baby. This one got briskly plucked from the nursery and fed between worship services so that I could make it through noon without an embarrassing incident in the pulpit. A woman cannot forget her nursing child. The third and last baby introduced me to mastitis and nursed long enough to have teeth and well after I returned to work. I learned then that my body not only couldn’t forget my child, it was mindful of all those in proximity. Another woman’s infant would cry, and my body would respond as if I was responsible for feeding all babies within ear shot. No matter how engaged I might be in work, my nursing child would come to full consciousness as my body signaled that it was time to feed her or at least express her meal.
None of these children cared how long my to-do list was nor the other demands on my time. They insisted, and my body concurred, when it was time for them to be nourished, nurtured, held and comforted, everything else would come to a screeching halt. My priorities were not wholly under my control. It was then that I read that Isaiah passage not with wistfulness but with full awareness of the absolute impossibility of forgetting one’s nursing child. My body reminded me relentlessly and without fail, even if my mind wandered from time to time, that I had another being for whom I was responsible.
A woman cannot forget her nursing child, cannot ignore the cries of others’ hungry children either and God cannot forget us. No matter our insatiable needs. No matter the cost of being in relationship with us, the pain and the constraints of being intimately tethered to us. No matter our lack of appreciation for all God gives without which we would perish but for which we feel entitled. God cannot forget us. Something in God’s very being responds to our cries and aches when we are separated from one another. Hence, the unbelievable, Son-sending-lengths God goes to seek us out, to reconcile and redeem our relationship, to nurture us and bring new life.
As the psalmist writes, there is nowhere we can go where God is not present and there is no time or place or circumstance in which God’s memory of us fades. There is no aspect of us unknown or uncared for by God. While we may neglect God, wander off or rebel, God never forgets us. God never writes us off. God never fails to look for us or rejoice when we finally come home. While our hearts may well be restless until they rest in God, God hurts until we are reunited and made one through Christ.
The intimacy of this image of Almighty God as nursing mother, the vulnerability and earthiness of it, the messiness and the relentlessness of it, reveals that God not only provides us with daily manna for sustenance, but moment by moment God offers God’s very self to enfold and comfort us. God constantly pursues us and never fails to respond to our cries. After all, can a woman forget her nursing child? Neither can God forget us.