I’ve been on quite a few missions trips to West Africa and one thing that you cannot miss when you are there is the freedom that African women have to breastfeed in public. I remember once, after preaching in public to a large crowd, that a woman came forward and told me that she wanted to trust in Christ. As we were praying together, I heard her baby getting fussy, and I opened my eyes and she just pulled down her top and started nursing. That’s certainly something that I’ve never countered in the American church!
And it was after one of my trips to Africa in 1994 that I painted the painting above- “Mother’s Milk.” It was one of the main pieces at my senior art show in college, too. And it (and many other paintings of mine) were banned at the Christian college that I went to. I had to pull them down because they were too controversial. Life as an artist in the (Southern) church…
So I’ve painted a number of paintings through the years of women breastfeeding. It has been one of my motifs that I often return to. And it’s a motif that the Puritans picked up on as well. We tend to shy away from the imagery (probably because of our over-sexualized culture), but the Puritans knew that breastfeeding was beautiful a picture to show the love of God for sinners like us. Here’s how one of my favorite Puritan pastors, Richard Sibbes, describes the love of Jesus…
Doth he come empty? No; he comes with all grace. His goodness is a communicative, diffusive goodness. He comes to spread his treasures, to enrich the heart with all grace and strength, to bear all afflictions, to encounter all dangers, to bring peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. He comes, indeed, to make our hearts, as it were, a heaven. Do but consider this. He comes not for his own ends; but to empty his goodness into our hearts. As a breast that desires to empty itself when it is full; so this fountain hath the fulness of a fountain, which strives to empty his goodness into our souls. He comes out of love to us. Let these considerations melt our hearts for our unkindness, that we suffer him to stand so long at the door knocking, as it is said here. Sibbes, R. (1862). The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. (A. B. Grosart, Ed.) (Vol. 2, p. 67). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson.
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t come to us empty. He comes with grace. And He doesn’t come to us for something that He can get out of it. He’s not self-centered in His giving. He doesn’t come to us for His own ends- He comes to empty His goodness into our hearts! And just like a breast that is full and ready to empty itself of its milk, so too Jesus is ready to fill us with His goodness. He is an overflowing fountain, dare I say, an overflowing breast, that desires to fill His hungry children with His milk.
Think about that today. It will melt your heart.