“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” Helen Keller
I recently witnessed a baby emerge from his mother’s womb. I am a birth doula, which is a fancy term for a professional support person who cheers on women and their families through the labor and delivery process and offers informational, emotional and physical support. I have assisted in dozens of births over the past four years and I never cease to be awestruck when a baby is born. As I watch such a momentous event take place, there are always at least a few tears that fill my eyes. I believe every birth is a miracle, no matter what the surrounding circumstances are; and I feel incredibly privileged to have a front row seat to see it occur. In fact, there are a few times when something so obviously synchronistic captivates me during the experience that I could easily start sobbing with overwhelming awe. My pre-emptive emotional gush could certainly be due to my extreme exhaustion, since some labors last a very long time and I get very little sleep…or it could also be the result of the residual hormonal release of o oxytocin that helps cultivate euphoria…but I’d like to believe that it is mostly an acute divine awareness that activates and compels me to acknowledge and celebrate the reality of life in all its beauty and scandal. This is how I have come to define resurrection, which is the best way of living that I can imagine. This most recent birth experience revealed this to me in a new way.
Resurrection is, indeed, a beautiful and scandalous experience. This provocative reality requires death in order for life to be re-born. Considering Jesus’ death and resurrection is certainly controversial; yet, I believe it is essential in making sense of life as well as enduring life with meaningful and triumphant purpose. I’m not going to attempt here to define or resolve the problem of pain (or why we die) in any over-simplified or sophisticated explanation. People have been doing this for millennia. Suffice to say, I am part of a long tradition of people trying to make sense of “why” and “why not”. Why does God allow pain to exist? Why not take it all away if God really is all-powerful? A beneficial book by Phillip Yancey explores the reality of pain and sums up the best question on the topic in its title: Where Is God When It Hurts? Such a desperate intrigue begs an answer, not from an existential perspective persay, but from a relational vantage point.
A similar question was asked and an explanation offered twenty five hundred years ago when Israel’s King David poetically penned Psalm 23. The first line defines God as a personal guide: “The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). From the start, a relationship is established. The identity and function of David’s Shepherd unfolds line by line to describe an ever-present and benevolent support. I am persuaded that any belief or description of God as anything less than good is not worth considering, let alone consulting. I must, from all starting points of understanding any part of life (its highs and lows), begin with the acknowledgment and acceptance that God is eternally good. Otherwise, I’m better off not believing in any such entity because it will only result in the worse kind of disappointment and disconnection. Death is the most disappointing and disconnecting experience. That is why God incarnated through Jesus came to earth. He lived a life not unlike our own – He was born, lived and even died, so that we never need say we are on our own. His resurrection is the everlasting reality that As a Good Shepherd, He walks with us through every aspect of our existence. His resurrection provides us the hope of life on the other side of obstacles as well as life after life – whether figuratively or literally. We can always overcome.
Pregnancy and birth are often used as metaphoric models of describing aspects of life’s journey. We wait. We mature. We suffer. We keep going. We think we won’t make it. We can’t take it anymore and then we turn the corner and we greet what we were waiting for. I have yet to birth my own children, but I have birthed a few life-transforming moments that came out of long suffering labors. A pastor told me in my twenties during a difficult phase of my life that “God does not waste pain”. I have come to embrace this promise, believing that God is good and He meant it when He created life and declared it to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I have sat on my couch, heart broken and beaten down by life’s disappointments and challenges, and have said aloud that “something good will be birthed out of this pain”. I take deep breaths and focus on that hope. That hope is its own healing – the expectancy of resurrection brings me peace to endure and press on.
During this most recent birth, the mama shared my faith in Jesus as something/someone special – a good Shepherd to help her along her journey. She selected a playlist of her favorite sacred songs to provide a sound track for her labor. Throughout her labor, they set a nice tone to the room and mindset with both peaceful or peppy melodies and lyrics like “You are my strength” and “I’ll never leave you alone” etc. At times, I would point out a line of a song to offer her encouragement. She smiled and sighed; and such sentiment seemed to resonate with her, as she notably had a peaceful resolve in her stature and movements. However, I did not anticipate how these songs would cycle during the delivery process to significantly offer encouragement to keep pushing onward. As each contraction surged and the baby began to emerge, she begged for relief. All she could really utter was “it hurts so much!” The doctor offered a few relief options, though she emphasized the most important option to consider was to just keep pushing because the baby would be born in a matter of minutes. So the mama kept pushing. Her husband placed the music by her head to see if that would offer reprieve. I’m not sure if she heard the song playing as she birthed her baby boy, since her efforts were very much focused on her task at hand. But I heard the song. It was an Easter themed song about resurrection, about Christ overcoming the grave and about how we, too, can live and thrive because “He is alive”. I watched the mother in her agonizing attempts to birth her baby and heard her repeatedly cry “why does it hurt so much?” She also repeated that she couldn’t push anymore. As the song melody swelled to a climax and the lyrics reiterated the reality “He is alive”, I found myself in tune with both the mother’s longing for her labor to be over and the reality of how God endured pain to empower us to survive the valley and reach the mountain moment. I looked into that mother’s eyes and told her that not only was her husband, the staff, I and even her baby were with her to help her cross the finish line but most significantly that God was with her. After a pause, I told her God purposefully brought her to this moment and placed the strength inside her to see it through to the other side. She took a deep breath and seemed to reach deep within to access that strength. She lifted her head and tucked her chin to her chest for a few final pushes and then the doctor placed her baby boy on her chest. The resurrection song played a few final measures and I thought I might start crying uncontrollably.
One of my favorite things about being part of this process with moms and families is watching the transformation on the mother’s face from before to after delivery. This birth was no different – I watched the mom’s face shift from intense distress and furrowed brow to a blissful glow of joy with softened lines and gaze. She sweetly greeted her little guy with gentle whispers of giddiness. Not unlike Mary did, as she stood outside Jesus’ grave that first Easter morning. The tomb became a womb and birthed a whole new reality for us to live life with renewed focus. Resurrection keeps telling a story for me and is truly my inspiration to serve others – I love cheering people on to live like they are loved and are able to love deeply and can bring life into the world with joy that overflows and surpasses any and all grief.