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Two and a half years ago, Ike and I drove across town once a week, for 10 weeks, to attend a birthing class. We wanted to learn as much as we could about the experience ahead, so we enrolled in a rigorous course. In that class we learned about everything–the stages of labor, how to cope with the pain, forms of medical intervention, potential complications, and much more.
Before I took that class, I’m ashamed to admit how little I knew. For instance, I didn’t know that the baby doesn’t just…fall out of you. I mean, I knew there was some pushing and rhythmic breathing involved, but most of what I knew came from Hollywood: as soon as you go into labor you better get to the hospital fast, because that baby will literally drop out of you at any moment!
In reality, labor takes a long time. In my case, a loooong time. I could have stopped for a nice steak dinner before going to the hospital, because Isaac was perfectly content to stay in there.
Something else I didn’t know? That labor has stages. It’s not all pushing, and it’s not constant pain. Instead, your body warms up to the birth in waves. The contractions grow closer and stronger as you near delivery, and the pain reaches a climax when your body shifts from dilating to pushing. This climax is the most difficult phase of labor, but it’s also the shortest and near the end. It’s called transition.
This week, I found myself thinking a lot about that phase of transition. Not because I’m have having another baby soon, but because the name seems so fitting for my current stage in life. How appropriate that the most painful part of labor is called transition, because really, isn’t transition painful?
For me, it certainly has been.
These last few months have been hard, period. On the one hand, Ike and I have witnessed some major answers to prayer–God has provided everything we needed and more. On the other hand, I’ve experienced a lot of loss. Now that Ike is working full-time, I have lost the freedom I enjoyed when we were both students. Now that I’m home with Isaac, I’ve lost a lot of margin to think, write, and create. Now that I’m at a new church where people primarily know me as ” “Ike’s wife,” “Isaac’s mom,” or simply “the pregnant lady,” I’ve lost a big chunk of my identity as a leader and a person in my own right.
My identity is in transition. And it hurts.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and praying about my identity, and I finally realized something:
There are a LOT of people in the Bible whose identities changed.
To be more specific, their identities were changed for them. By God.
Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul. Moses was an Egyptian prince who became a nomadic prophet. Esther was a lowly peasant who became a powerful queen. David was a shepherd who became king.
The Bible is full of stories of identity change, but I never gave it much thought until now. I never bothered to ask, “Was the transition hard for them?” As each individual stepped into his or her new identity, did they feel a sense of loss? Did they feel confused? Did they grieve?
My guess is that they did–even amidst the good transitions.
In Romans 12, Paul instructs us to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds,” and one way that we do this is by “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice.” That imagery would have been unmistakeable to Paul’s first century audience, a culture deeply familiar with the practice of sacrifice. To sacrifice something–an animal, to be specific–meant putting it to death. So when Paul tells us to offer ourselves as sacrifices, there is a sense in which he is instructing us to put some part of ourselves to death.
That “putting to death” is something you experience throughout your life in different seasons and stages. Your old self or identity dies, and it really can feel like a death. It’s a loss, and you grieve it like a death.
But here’s the good news: God doesn’t simply take your identity away. He exchanges it for something new. Something better.
Throughout your life, God puts to death your old identity to make you your truest self. The loss of identity is painful, but the loss makes way for the new–an identity that’s closer and closer to your perfect identity in Christ.
Yes, the transition is painful, but like labor, it comes right before the birth.
If you’re in a season of transition right now, I want to encourage you with that hope. Whether you’re newly married, newly single, a new parent, a new stay-at-home mom, an empty nester, living in a new city, working at a new job, suffering the loss of a job, or experiencing the loss of a dream, you are not alone in feeling the pain of transition. It is hard to change or lose your identity, because death of any sort is painful.
But know this: transition comes before birth. God isn’t just killing some part of you.
He’s birthing something new.