And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. (Vayikra / Leviticus 12:6-7; ESV)
My wife and I are parents of (what’s considered by today’s standards) a large family: six girls, four boys. Their ages range from 10 to 32 years old. One of the many wonderful things about a household of this size is the variety of personalities. People outside our family tend to notice our similarities, but those who know us better see how very different we are from each other. One of the differences I notice is that some of us are more self-assured than others. To some extent this is a reflection of me and my wife. She can be a lot quicker to come to a decision, and rarely struggles with second thoughts. It’s not that she never changes her mind. But if she does, it happens as quickly as her previous decision. I, on the other hand, ponder a little more, and struggle with doubts. But once I make a final decision, I am very reluctant to change course. Some of our children are more like me, and others are more like her.
One of our sons who is more like my wife in this regard, started his own lawn services business last year. I was very impressed with his initiative and sense of purpose. He quickly organized himself administratively, purchased equipment and garnered clients. He also freely took on a wide variety of projects, acquiring whatever knowledge and expertise he needed along the way. As the business wrapped up in the fall for the season, it was a success.
Here in this part of Canada, we still have a lot of snow on the ground. But spring is coming, and my son is ramping up for another year’s work. He is hard at it already, planning this and doing that with his usual gusto. Gets an idea; goes for it. Like his mom, I don’t hear him second guessing himself. He rarely asks for help, as he rarely thinks he needs it.
You might be wondering what this has to do with the verses I read. Well, I had been thinking about these verses and how they illustrate how God was to be part of every aspect of the community of Israel. We may not understand the necessity of ritual cleaning after child birth, nor is it explained. But God was involved in everything.
The other day, with this on my mind, I was nearby when my son sent off a business communication—a text message. I can’t remember what prompted me to ask him if he prayed every time before sending such messages. “No,” he replied. I interpreted this as a case of his self-assuredness, and encouraged him to be more intentional on bringing decisions to God before acting. This was confirmed to me a couple of days later, when he said, “Praying for things really helps!” Lesson learned, or so I thought.
As it turns out, a lesson was learned, but not exactly as I thought. He explained to me later that while he spends time in prayer each day and stops to ask God before making serious decisions, the text message he had sent didn’t seem to be that important. But misunderstanding aside, he took my words to heart, and immediately started seeing the benefit of praying even for what may seem to be less important matters.
So what does this have to do with purification ceremonies after childbirth? It’s that Torah rituals like these trained the people of Israel to relate to God in all things. It wasn’t that the people were to fill their lives with mindless incantations and gimmicks to appease God or to get life to cooperate with them. It’s that God wanted intimate relationship with his children. Life comes from God; life is sustained by God; we are dependent on God for life. Our lives need to reflect that. The purification rites reminded the people that first and foremost everything they did affected their relationship with God.
People like me can easily come across as super-spiritual. I can make my insecurities sound like I am more dependent on God than others are. It could be what I interpret as self-assuredness in others—their tendency to just “go for it”—comes from deep faith in his love, presence, and guidance, while I have trouble accepting God’s faithfulness towards me. But whether we are prone to uncertainty or confidence, we all need to learn to rely on God in every circumstance. He wants us to and we need intimate fellowship with him more than we know.