Do you know Pablo Picasso’s Mother and Child? In the years after his first child’s birth, Picasso sketched a series of drawings and then painted numerous versions of the same scene. The piece captures a sense of quiet joy, of shared pleasure in each other’s presence. There is no flailing about, no fevered demand. Instead, we see:
- a soft enjoyment in the presence of strong love
- a receiving
- an assured stillness
The serene facial expressions catch my eye. Confidence has been won by the mother, and so her child experiences confidence in this sweet moment of being, not doing. This is a moment of closeness, birthed from trust and oneness. A moment of peace.
The child’s soft little face glows: “I’m very special. I’m safe. I’m secure. The Most Important Person I know holds me. My heart beats with contentment and gladness.” This baby is sure he is cherished.
Picasso and a Psalm
Picasso didn’t set out to paint Psalm 131. But as I gaze at this baby’s face, I think of this Psalm of Ascents.
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)
Scholars believe the Israelites sang this psalm (along with Psalm 120-134) as they journeyed from their distant homes in Galilee or Judea toward the temple in Jerusalem. Their land was mountainous (compared to low-lying surrounding regions — Egypt, for instance), and Jerusalem sat as a gleaming city on top of one of the highest points, with deep ravines on its southern and western sides. As the Israelite families trekked toward Jerusalem, each step carried them toward higher and higher altitudes. As they ascended, entered the mountain city and neared the steps leading to the temple, these “Psalms of Ascents,” sung and recited, would have turned their hearts and minds toward the Lord, readying them for true worship.
Verse 2 of the short 3-verse Psalm 131 draws a picture I return to over and over in my mind. I’ve nursed and weaned three children, but I still have trouble grasping the deep meaning of this phrase: “I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.” Calmed and quieted — like a weaned child. What exactly does the psalmist mean? How does a humbled posture before the Lord (verse 1) connect with a calmed and quieted spirit (verse 2) before Him? How does this weaned-ness, this contentment and restfulness before and with my Lord lead to the hope of verse 3?
Picasso’s painting again: There are no haughty eyes, no arrogance or pride. The child does not challenge or question the mother’s care. He does not occupy himself with matters too great and too marvelous for him. His times are in his mother’s hand (Ps. 31:15) and he wouldn’t think to demand inclusion into the secret things only his mother knows about his future (Deut. 29:29). His eyes shine with gentle delight, and he sits in her lap, simply glad to be in her presence.
I want to be as a weaned child in the presence of my Father.
I’m so often not, though. I’m not relaxed, or serene or stable. I flail about in fevered demand. My heart and eyes lift up in haughtiness and I demand my Father explain and fix and respond to my tantrum. I forget that I am cherished — that I am precious in His eyes and honored and He loves me (Is. 43:4). I do not remember that He would never abandon or desert or forget me (Hebrews 13:5).
His love for me is as this mother’s love for her child. Grasping and remembering this about my relationship with Him brings contentment and hope.
A restless will that hurries to and fro
The hope steadies, because I know He holds my future. The weaned-like contentment — the quiet and calm — hushes my fearful heart when I remember He holds my present. I not only bow to His plan for me, but I trust His plan as good. My naturally restless will that hurries to and fro in search of self-rule and personal validation is quieted: I want only to be treated as His child.
Father, I know that all my life
is portioned out for me;
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
intent on pleasing Thee.
I would not have that restless will
that hurries to and fro,
e’er seeking some great thing to do,
or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child,
and guided where I go.
(Anna L. Waring, Hymns and Meditations, 1850)
O Lord, I want to be as a weaned child in your presence, full of a resting, trusting, marveling heart. Guided, not proud. Cherished, not afraid. Content, not self-reliant.