A wave of nausea washed over me as I felt the familiar tightening again, the groan rising silently in my soul: “here it comes.” Long minutes of pressure built, my body wringing itself, then it ebbed away and I stood up straighter, my hands unclenching the surround in front of the kitchen sink. In the quiet, tired, freshening minutes I sipped a cool drink and moved slowly around, shrugging my shoulders and breathing deeply. The contractions would come again, but for now I could move freely.
Giving birth or watching it occur teaches something of the cyclic nature of most pain. It has an ebbing and flowing quality over time, peaking in such intensity that, if we didn’t understand that it was temporary, would be overwhelming. When each pain abates, there’s a resting period in which we reorient ourselves to the world around us and can connect with something outside of ourselves in a way that is completely impossible during the contraction.
Pain has a peculiarly alienating quality. When it peaks, we are often forced to stop and focus on it to the exclusion of all else, but if we wholly surrender then, we can disappear into it.
When my husband, after a 4-month separation, told me to get out of our house (which I had agreed in lengthy divorce negotiations to give him), I had no place to go. He hoped that I would decide that I couldn’t make it alone, forget the divorce, and let him return, with our lives returning to the violent roller coaster they had grown to be. I prayed fervently because I knew that God loved us and would make a way for our escape. I felt the words, “plan to move in May” in my heart, and fretted over how I could convince a spiteful, malevolent man to wait 5 more months for us to move without giving in and letting him move back.
After months of bullying phone calls, through which I repeatedly explained how difficult it was to find a home when I hadn’t been employed for a decade and after which I always sobbed with the same hopeless frustration, May finally dragged around. I cleaned out our house and began moving things I wanted to keep into a storage unit, because I still had no idea where we would go. I did trust the Lord as I saw how he had preserved my life, several times miraculously. Not until the third week of May, however, did my future become clear, when my mother, distressed with serious and chronic health problems both she and my father faced, had a dream that opened her mind to ask me to come live with them and care for them. It was not something either of us had previously considered, but the 4th weekend in May I packed seven children and a house and moved. God had been faithful, though he had not chosen to make the way easy or encouraging or even clear. More than a decade later this period of my life marks a quantum leap forward in my relationship with God.
Everyone involved in birth nurtures a mother through her wave cycle of pain and refreshing because the most wonderful thing is happening! A baby is going to be born! When that baby enters the world, we draw great drafts of joy into our souls. While we support and rub and encourage her to hang on through the contractions, we hold that promise in our hearts. If we did not, birth would be terror.
Had I known during each badgering phone call – through court proceedings in which my ability to support so many young children was questioned, in my terrified moments of despair and self-doubt – that I was giving birth to a deeper confidence in myself and in the Lord and a whole range of gifts and qualities, it would have been easier to hang on. Such, however, is the process of birthing hope. We need mentors, attendants who’ve weathered the waves of pain, to describe that joy that we’ll eventually draw in great drafts into our soul, to gift us with a vision of hope wrapped warmly in our arms, our own child born of our pain.
I’ve given birth six times, two of those within minutes of one another. I’ve also ridden other waves of pain: being left at 20 years old by my husband, parenting alone, marrying a man who became abusive, protecting children in a home that could flash with anger, dealing with times of poverty and loneliness, miscarrying repeatedly, divorcing, losing my home several times, extended family strains, losing jobs. Often those experiences came one right after another in overwhelming waves that shook my self-confidence and challenged my faith. I didn’t know to what I was giving birth or that the pain would ebb away. Sometimes, it was terror.
When Jesus Christ entered the garden at Gethsemane, his disciples were still struggling within themselves to understand his mission. They were “heavy” and “sore amazed” wondering if this was the Messiah. He had spent three years teaching them who he was and what he could do, but in the darkness and the jostling stress of threats against their lives and his refusal to strike back, they wondered if he was who he said he was. It was a big thing to wrap their minds around.
It’s not unlike the dark periods of our lives, when, bullied by circumstance and consumed by contracting pain, we wonder if God is as powerful as what troubles us. We feel heavy and sore amazed. We have no idea what we’re giving birth to or when the breathtaking wringing of our souls will abate. We have no idea who we are intended to become. It’s a big thing to wrap our minds around.
Those dark moments of pain are a crucible in which we reach through space to a Savior or we surrender to the surge. If we choose, we can labor to birth a hope that will sustain and nourish our souls through a lifetime and an eternity. No less experienced attendant than our Lord Jesus Christ stands by us, holding out the promise that this breathing, squirming, infant hope, child of our pain, will be worth every wringing contraction of our soul.
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Hang on. Breathe. Focus.
Hope is a mighty sweet baby.
(My precious granddaughter)