I firmly believe that every aspect of life is designed in some way to draw us deeper into spiritual intimacy and give us a better idea — however limited it may be — of what God is like. As a single woman, I felt invited to experience God’s longing for relationship with humanity. When I was unemployed, I felt drawn into God’s deeper story that transcended the one I wanted to tell about my life.
Pregnancy has, at times, felt like a simultaneous, extended Advent and Lent. Upon discovering you’re pregnant, you inhabit the palpable sense of hope and expectation (and fear) that marks Advent. And basically once your pregnancy is confirmed, the next several months are Lenten, as you forgo the pleasures of certain foods, drinks, even medications. As you consider what goes into childbirth, you’re faced daily with your own mortality (and your child’s and basically everyone else’s). You daily extend charity to your growing child with your vitamins and nutrients (and your changing body). With all of the self-denial, fear, digestive issues, and all the ways your body can cramp, the command to “pray without ceasing” seems so obvious.
Now, as I count down the days to my son’s pending birth, I feel drawn into Holy Week in ways I never imagined.
There’s one verse that has continually come to mind as I have navigated the past several months: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). The experience of being pregnant is unique in that it is both a wonderful, amazing, miraculous calling and also an insanely difficult cross to bear (albeit without the shame, in hopefully most cases). The day I discovered I was pregnant I went through several phases of joy and grief and fear, and looming over all of them is that Day far off in the distance, always getting closer, when you have to labor and give birth.
Now let me be clear: You don’t have to experience pregnancy or childbirth to understand how Jesus could pray that God would let the cup pass from him. But facing my son’s birth, I find a particular solidarity in that prayer. Yes, it’s a special and wondrous thing to give birth. It’s also, well, kind of gross and terrifying. It’s a uniquely humbling experience. I’ve heard it described as “queen for a day” while also being subjected to major indignities and — potentially — major surgery.
What I think makes all of it particularly amazing is that an experience as painful and out-of-control as childbirth can be, it is still not only endurable, but anticipated, for the joy of meeting your child for the first time. It is surreal and profound to feel total, unconditional love for this total stranger as you watch your body change its shape and stretch in ways that didn’t seem fathomable, give over nearly every part of yourself, and experience pains and aches and deprivation and discomfort.
This kid is starting out in life with a bill he owes me that he can never possibly repay or fully understand.
And still, I would give him the world if it belonged to me. For the joy of being fully united with this little boy, if it came down to it I would endure hours of labor, being torn or cut open, or whatever was necessary for him to arrive safely. If it was in my power, I would destroy anything that tried to damage or harm my son — and I haven’t even met him.
This Holy Week we are invited to remember that we are like this little child. We are God’s fully known, dearly loved, and wholly desired children. We are thought about constantly, the recipients of so much goodwill and grace. We are invited to remember the tender, maternal heart of God, who as it’s recorded in Matthew, during that first Holy Week, cried “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
On Friday we will remember how Jesus takes the cup, for the joy set before him. He goes to the cross willing to be flayed and pierced to give us new life, to forgive our debts and to defeat the enemies that set themselves up against us. May we be willing to let Jesus gather us to himself and to be the beneficiaries of God’s grace.