Isaac is a week old today, which is pretty hard to believe! The craziness of the labor and delivery all seem light years away. Instead of taking the time I would like to reflect on my experience giving birth, I’ve spent my days nursing, changing diapers, and getting to know this tiny little guy who has entered our lives. Although the learning curve is steep, we have loved it, and we especially love him!
This week has been full of lessons about motherhood and lessons about God. So many, in fact, that it will undoubtedly take me awhile to process them all. For today, I want to share one spiritual nugget that God imparted to me in the middle of labor.
I had a really long labor. I labored for approximately 24 hours before I got an epidural (although I should add that, before I sound like some kind of hero, most of that pre-epidural phase was the easier, early labor phase).
Fortunately, Ike and I had prepared well for labor and had been practicing relaxation techniques to get through the pain. One thing we learned through our preparation is that there are two enemies of labor pain: adrenaline and fear.
Both adrenaline and fear undermine the progression of labor. Not only can they slow or even stop labor, but they can increase the pain as well. For this reason, we learned the importance of being calm (ie. avoiding either positive or negative emotions that can produce adrenaline) and embracing the pain. The latter is, in my opinion, much more difficult.
It is easy to be fearful during labor, especially since you know the pain is only going to get worse. But rather than give into that fear, you have to embrace the pain as a productive one. While your body reflexively reacts to pain by tensing up and fighting the pain–a reflex which actually makes the pain worse–you have to give into the pain and let it happen. You allow the pain to do a good work in you.
Last Sunday night and Monday as the pains of labor washed over me and I tried to breathe them in, I thought about how many of these principles of labor are also true of the Christian life. I thought about how fear paralyzes us and stymies growth. Fear causes us to fight God’s work in and through us. And as a result of fighting that good work, we can make the pain of sanctification far more painful than it needs to be.
“Do not fear” is one of the most common commands in Scripture. There are many reasons for this, I think, and one of those reasons must surely be the manner in which fear inhibits spiritual flourishing. Rather than trust the goodness of God’s character and will, it is easy to live in a defensive posture that constantly anticipates the worst and produces a cowering existence.
But this kind of posture is opposed to the new work God wants to create in us. It ensures that we are never bold and that we never live the abundant life. If we are constantly afraid of some hardship lurking around the corner, we will never be fully present today.
Last week as I lay on a bed slowly inhaling and exhaling, allowing the pain to come and do its work, I wondered if I could take the same approach to the Christian life. Rather than fear the pain of this world, can I let it accomplish a good work in me? Can I divorce the marriage of pain and fear so that I am not paralyzed by one, and not fighting the other? Can I live confidently in the knowledge that Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross and that, while pain still may come, I need not fear pain as though it might consume me?
I hope so. While labor is short compared to many of the hardships we endure in life, I hope my heart will remember the work it accomplished a week ago today. I hope that lesson is now etched into my soul, so that as God makes me into a new creation I can embrace those spiritual labors pains instead of fearing them.