Theology of Motherhood

Labor Pains and the Life-giving Kingdom

Dear Leona,

As a woman, it’s one of my deepest prayers that one day you will have the honor and privilege of experience the exhilarating, exhausting, and overwhelming task of bringing a baby into the world. As your daddy and I are preparing for Tobi, I keep reflecting on what it was like to welcome you into the world, and I thought sharing some insights might explain why I would wish the experience of labor on you– my dearest and most precious firstborn.

-It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I did so much labor prep– worked at a pregnancy center (TWICE) for several months, went to childbirth classes, read books, formed opinions, and educated myself… and I felt READY. I just KNEW I was going to rock childbirth. And then you came, and my labor didn’t progress in any natural pattern… All my “head knowledge” went out the window, and I had to dive down into my instincts, rely on my support team, and trust the process.

-I got stuck. Because it was hard, I found myself stuck. I found one position that “worked,” and I was hesitant to do ANYTHING different.

-It was INTENSE. Your daddy still remembers the moment when I switched from early labor to active labor– I’ll spare you the details, but just know that there was very little “gentleness” in the process of bringing you into the world.

-The joy that overtook my heart the moment I heard you cry was the most intoxicating, awe-inspiring, and heart-bursting joy I have ever experienced (don’t worry, Tobi… I’m sure yours was on-par, too… Just haven’t gotten there yet)… I just couldn’t believe how precious you were, and how honored I felt (and still feel) to be your mother. That joy carried me through the newborn days and weeks. Sure, there were fleeting moments of frustration, but nothing compared to the deep, heart-aching feelings of love that flooded (and still flood) my innermost being each time you were in my arms.

-Parenting you has been the most sanctifying joy of my life to date. Sanctifying because it requires a whole new level of selflessness (more on that in a minute), and joy because I absolutely love watching you grow from infancy into a little person…

The Gospel of John tells us that in Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples, he likened his impending death to the pains of a woman in labor. Now, before we start scoffing at Jesus

referencing labor to a group of young, unmarried MEN, I will tell you that there was a purpose. God has used this image in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) many, many times. Looking back on these references can help us understand what Jesus was hoping to communicate to his disciples. In Isaiah 13:8, the reference is used in a discourse on judgement against Babylon– the ultimate image of power and human-led empire in the Biblical story. In Isaiah 21:3, the same image is used to describe what it would be like for the “gods of Babylon” to be shattered on the ground. In Isaiah 26:17, the reference is directed at the people of God, indicating the need for temporary pain that carries the hope of deliverance. And finally in Isaiah 66:7, the reference seems to refer to judgement against the leaders of Israel specifically. In this final reference, labor is used as a metaphor for the difficulty and anguish that leads to beautiful relief.

The amazing thing about this final reference in Isaiah, is that Isaiah 66 (the final chapter of the book) is though to be one of the most direct prophecies regarding the coming of the “New Kingdom;” the kingdom that would restore all things to their intended place, bring the light and life of the world and do away with the darkness that humans keep submitting to in the entire Biblical story.

Right before Jesus uses his labor metaphor, he tells the disciples of a coming Advocate (whom we now know of as the Holy Spirit), and lets the disciples know that the Holy Spirit will prove the world wrong in regards to how we understand sin, righteousness, and judgement. The Jewish people (the people of God) thought they were experts on these three topics, and yet Jesus’s ministry shows that they (we) knew (know) very little about how these topics should be treated in the kingdom of God.

So, when I read about the coming of the Holy Spirit, and then I read Jesus warning the disciples of labor pains, I as a woman who brought you into the world understand deeply what Jesus was trying to communicate to his dear followers. I understand that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a process that will feel like labor to the disciples, BUT that the birth of the New Kingdom will bring the judgement and conviction of all that is wrong with the world… and in the place of all that sin in death, a wake of joy and hope will reverberate, increase, and grow.

-Like my labor, the process of Jesus surrendering to death and the advent of the New Kingdom led by the disciples was HARD. They thought they had prepared. Peter promises several times throughout the gospels that he would follow Jesus even to DEATH, but we know that as the story unfolds and the labor progresses, he falls prey to his fear and anxiety and denies his Rabbi and Lord. All of the disciples scattered one way or another, which makes sense, since our natural response to pain is to run from it. The example Jesus leaves in the wake of all of the scattering and running is to stay, to lean in, and to surrender to the process of kingdom coming (which, ironically is the best way to endure the labor process).

-The disciples got STUCK in this process of labor. They found themselves trusting the story of empire and Babylon even though they had spent three years learning to trust a different story. Much like in labor, you can learn and learn and learn, but when the rubber meets the road and you are in the thick of it, you may just find yourself doing whatever you can to survive. When Jesus resurrects, we find the disciples huddled in their homes, fearful and unmoving, because that’s what felt natural and comfortable in the wake of their pain. But Jesus still brought forth this kingdom, even though they got stuck. God is the great obstetrician, who will bring forth his beloved, no matter how scared and stuck the laboring person might be.

-Jesus’ death was intense. There’s no other way to describe it. The Jewish leaders were ruthless in their pursuit of his execution, and Pilate demonstrates ultimate passivity by using mockery and violence toward Jesus to try to enact pity on Jesus by the Jewish leaders. Instead of being swayed to pity, the Jewish leaders were incited to call for crucifixion, one of the most brutal forms of execution in that day, of this innocent Rabbi.

-The joy of the New Kingdom was intoxicating for the disciples. We see a group of stuck and scared disciples go on to literally turn the world on its head in the book of Acts. We see kindness and generosity spreading from person to person, and there is healing in the world as a response to this new birth. The coming of the New Kingdom was not without challenge– early in the story of Acts, we see the first death as a result of the world rejecting its judgement. But Stephen’s death only fuels the fire, because he surrenders to the difficulty much like Jesus did, which ironically sparks a growth spurt of this brand new baby Kingdom of Jesus.

-The church continues to grow, with God as its parent. Gently guiding and correcting, turning in the right direction. Sometimes scolding, sometimes rewarding… But always loving and nurturing the growth of this New Kingdom until it someday reaches maturity and Jesus comes back to finally do away with the way of sin and death, and our Genesis 1 potential is re-instated in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

You see, my sweet Leona, while there is a part of my heart that desires that you never feel pain or hardship in your life, when I study these things out I can’t help but yearn for you to know what it took, and is still taking, to restore God’s definition of goodness on this earth. I can’t wait for you to feel the difficulty of surrendering to the pain, followed by the elation of holding your sweet baby because I hope that experience will help you surrender to the difficult parts of trusting God’s story as he continues to bring His New Kingdom through your life. I want you to feel the honor and deep understanding of participating in a process that our Lord used as a metaphor for his method of healing the world. I want you to know, even if labor doesn’t go as planned, that God will bring forth kingdom light through your life in any way he can, and that there is honor in ANY method of delivery of this kingdom in your life (much like the honor of all forms of birth of our human babies).

The spiritual implications of our lives as women are deeply woven throughout the fabric of the scriptures, but to me this metaphor hits deeply in this particular season of life. As I wrestle with surrendering my own understanding to fully trust God’s story, I am so inspired by the example of Jesus’s surrender to the birth pains of bringing this New Kingdom. May we all see ourselves in the Birth Story of the world– may we all be inspired to lean in and surrender rather than resist and get stuck, that we all may experience the full joy as the light and life of Christ are birthed into our hearts and homes.

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