“…Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, my LORD has forgotten me.’. Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:14-16, RSV)
When trouble comes my way, that’s how I can sometimes feel: that I’ve been forgotten and left to my own devices to manage life by myself. I lose track of the truth of what I know (at least in better times) – that God is “continually holding me, sustaining me, and loving me”, as the words of the Litany of Trust say.
The Hebrew word rachamim is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe God’s core nature of compassion and mercy. In Exodus 34:6-7, God shows Moses his actual form in response to Moses’ plea, “show my your glory”. God responds by showing Moses his “back”, while proclaiming himself as “merciful and gracious”, “abounding in mercy” and “keeping merciful love for thousands”. Interestingly, the word rachamim, or compassion/mercy derives from the Hebrew root word for womb. God’s merciful love is like the love of a mother, whose attachment to her child is typically very deep, almost boundaryless. Even in animals, that attachment to the mother (at least in mammals) is profound. If you yourself have ever nursed a baby, you know that your very body is unable to forget that nursing child, for breasts full of milk become painful and cry out for that necessary reunion with the child!
Many Christians struggle with God as their Father because of deep wounds from their past history, but can be quite comforted by the image of God as a kind of compassionate mother. However, there are others whose earthly mothers did indeed “forget” them due to mental illness, addiction, incarceration, death or some other extenuating circumstance. Painful as that certainly is, God takes care to tell us: “Even if you experienced being abandoned and forgotten by the very mother who carried you under her heart and birthed you into the world but then abandoned you, I am not like that: I will never forget you! You are carved into the palms of my hands, pierced with love for you on the Cross of Calvary!”
What’s needed is for Jesus to inscribe on my heart – by the gracious “pen” of his Spirit – a deep knowledge of his steadfast love and tender mercy. I need him to teach me to trust him when things are not as I think they ought to be, and when people are not doing what I think they should do. My constant prayer must be: Jesus, lift the eyes of my heart away from the circumstances to focus instead on you, for you alone are the anchor for my life; my hope, my security, my daily supply! You alone are the Good Shepherd, and with you, “there is nothing I shall want”!