I first heard about Erik Erikson sitting in Mr. Nelson's English class when I was a junior in high school. We were reading Catcher in the Rye and exploring the angst of Holden Caulfield, a teenager on the brink. Erikson, a psychologist, had hammered out a theory about human development. He suggested that at different ages we have conflicts that we must resolve. Which really just means that a lot of us wrestle with predictable demons as we grow up. Holden was right in the middle of what Erikson called "Identity vs. Role Confusion" and I was right there with him, trying to figure out who in the world I was. Those of us that get a grasp on that develop a decent sense of self and wind up with our feet on the floor, those of us that don't have a pretty tough go of it, uncertain and uncomfortable, blown around by the wind. And who can't identify with that wrestling match going on at the age of 16?
Erikson and I met again (figuratively because he is deceased) in undergraduate and graduate studies in child development, where I became quite acquainted with his theory about these predictable conflicts (Thanks to Dr. Anderson and Dr. Grellner). And tonight, and really these past three months, one of those conflicts has been sitting heavy in the very front of my mind.
Trust vs Mistrust
So Erikson said that the very first matter that we have to settle in our souls is the issue of trust. (If any of my girls are reading this... it should come as no surprise. There is something about that trust thing.) We have to decide if people are safe, if this world is safe, and if we are safe in it. Pretty heavy stuff for a newborn to be working through. I mean, seriously.
Babies that learn they are safe, develop trust... and that trust, according to Erikson, inspires HOPE. Babies who discover that the world is dangerous and unkind turn inward in despair... a tendency that has the potential to haunt them for a lifetime. These are the babies who lay alone in orphanages and one day just stop crying because no one responds to them.
If Erikson is right, and loads of pretty bright and educated folks seem to think he is, then our little man is in the middle of this deep, and I mean DEEP, issue. This is stuff going on in the core of who he is. This is operating at soul level. Ground zero. His experience of this world is based soley on feelings. Comfort or agony. Security or abandonment. Safe or threatened.
He is learning if he can trust us. Every time he cries and we comfort him. Every time he's hungry and we feed him. Every time he's wet and we change him.
We are learning if we can be trustworthy. When we are exhausted. When we are selfish. When we are just so stinking lazy. When he's throwing up in the middle of the night. When he's screaming for no apparent reason. When we would rather finish a show, or a conversation, or a thought. When we die to ourselves.
This season is so much more than changing diapers and filling bottles. We are helping our son to trust. We allowing him to hope.
And as a believer, I'm convinced that it's not just for this life. I have this sense that we are the forerunners of Christ in son's life. He will learn to trust us before he trusts Him. He will sense the safety in our arms, before he is aware of the security under his heavenly Father's wings. We are beating down a path from his heart to God's that he will have the choice to take when he grows up. Every time he finds us trustworthy, that path is cleared a little more. Another branch removed, another stone tossed out of the way.
And when Matt and I look into those deep blue eyes we feel the weight of it. This is no small thing.
Oh sweet babe, that you would learn trust. Even now, before you have words to express it, that you would discover trust. That you would sense in your core that you are heard, and loved, and safe and sound in our home. Oh that daddy and I would be worthy of that trust, selfish and imperfect as we are. Oh that God would send His grace to cover all the moments when we are not trustworthy.