Believe it or not, I have a friend who enjoys labor. Yeah, that labor. The kind that ends with a baby being born.
I talked with her a lot when I was pregnant with my son. Like most first time mothers, I was nervous about labor and uncertain of what to expect. Would I be able to handle it? Would I cry? Would I panic? Would I punch my husband in the face?
With great fondness, my friend recounted each of her three labors. And no, she wasn’t sugar coating it for my sake. She genuinely enjoyed labor. She described labor pain as a unique kind of pain, a pain with a purpose. The pain of labor accomplishes something. With each contraction and each push, you are one step closer to meeting your child.
As you can probably imagine, I was dumbfounded. Now that I have actually given birth, I am all the more amazed. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but labor is not something I dream about on a lazy summer day.
Even so, her description of labor stuck with me: pain with a purpose. A pain that accomplishes something, that produces life.
I’ll be honest, I don’t often think of pain in that way. Especially pain tied to my insecurities. Whenever I feel unacknowledged, left out, unattractive, or unimportant, I mope. I get down on myself. Sometimes I blame others. In my better moments, I try to pray the negativity away with the truth of Scripture.
But I do not welcome the pain. I rarely consider that God is changing me through that pain. Or at the very least, opening my eyes to the possibility of change.
As I have discussed here many times in the last few months, my insecurities have hit me like a roaring flood, nearly sweeping my confidence away. Between my struggles to make friends away from home, the pressures of social media, comparing myself to more successful writers, and feeling like no one cares about my writing, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling discouraged.
Looking at it now, I can see Satan has had a hey-day belittling my service to the Kingdom. He’s done a darn good job.
But as terrible and insecure as I’ve felt, I eventually realized I can respond in 3 ways:
1. I can give up. I can throw in the towel because it’s not worth the pain. It would be a lot easier to quit.
2. I can take the self-help approach. I can prop myself back up with truths about who I am in Christ, and press on…without ever addressing the real issue.
3. I can die to myself. I can die to the false idols that keep wounding me. I can stop striving after my name, my reputation, “my” ministry–the things that lead me to compare and feel inadequate–and die to it all.
And then, I can be free.
In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to guarantee them a seat at his right and left hands. They want to sit next to Jesus in his glory….though they are clearly more concerned with their own glory.
To this request, Jesus responds,
“You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
Here Jesus is referring to his death. He’s basically saying, “You want to follow me? Then you’ve got to lay yourself down and die.” In verse 39 Jesus foresees that they will, in fact, do just that. Most of the disciples died a martyr’s death.
This story is a classic tale of wrong motives, but it’s also one of hope. Just think, Jesus doesn’t reject John and James because of their selfish ambition. Their desire for self-glory does not disqualify them from ministry.
Instead, Jesus recognizes that their desire is not all bad. There is some part of James and John that earnestly yearns to serve God and see Christ glorified. Their motives are distorted by sin, but not entirely, and Jesus sees that.
So Jesus does what Jesus loves to do–he shows mercy. He doesn’t reject them or cast them out. Instead, he lays out the reality of Christian discipleship, and he calls them to die.
This story is a great hope for those of us in ministry. I constantly wrestle with my motives for writing about Christ. I know that I am called to ministry, but the line between promoting Jesus and promoting myself often becomes blurred. And on those days, I feel a lot of shame.
But this story reminds me that God knows my heart. He knows my deep down desire, even if my motives get mangled.
He also knows there is only one solution if I really want to honor him and live in the freedom of the gospel: I have to die.
Until I die to those motives of self-glory, until I grapple with my self-serving sin, I will be in bondage to my own ministry. Because at bottom, “my” ministry will be just that–it will be built on me, instead of Christ. It will be about making my name great, about competing with others, about showing off what I can do.
And as I’ve learned, that is a wretched place to live.
That’s why I am learning to delight in the pain of my insecurity. God has made it so uncomfortable for me to live in this present state of selfish ambition that I can’t get away from it fast enough. I don’t want this kind of life or ministry. It’s not freeing or joyful, but toxic and draining.
That’s also why, for Lent this year, I am fasting from all social media, blogging, and writing. I need to step away from my need to produce, my need to be seen, my need to be impressive. I want to nail all those things to the cross. I want them to die.
So I’ll be gone for the next 40 days, praying, reading, and seeking God’s face. I hope that at the end of this time, I’ll return refreshed, refocused, renewed, resurrected. Because I want to bear fruit for the Kingdom–good, delicious, life-giving fruit that lasts–and there’s only one way to do that:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
My friends, see you again on Resurrection Sunday!
*For a great word on this topic, check out Christine Caine’s IF Podcast, which was a major inspiration for this post.