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What Childbirth and Gethsemane Have Taught Me About Pain

April 3, 2015

One of my biggest fears is crippling pain- from the loss of a loved one, or an attack on my freedom, or some unknown hardship.  I have had a relatively easy life so far, so I struggle with this nagging fear that the worst is yet to come.

When I was preparing with my doula for the delivery of my first child, one of the things she taught me is that, in labor, I need to accept the pain- not to resist it or fight it by writhing, but to accept it and allow it to open my body for the birth.  This was probably the most important thing she said to prepare me for natural childbirth.

Giving birth to L was a very long process.  I’m not sure how much of it was active labor, but from the start of my contractions to the finish it was about 38 hours.  The first ~34 hours were very painful but I hardly dilated (opened up).  We were hoping my water would break on its own, but finally I decided to have it broken.  Once that happened, the pain was positively, extremely excruciating.  At this point, I was in the delivery room of the Czech hospital (after laboring in my sleeping room), and they only allowed one extra person in the room, so I chose my husband and had to say goodbye to my doula.  The pain was so horrible, I felt I never wanted to get pregnant again and regretted conceiving in the first place, even though I have long wanted three or four children. The anguish and agony were great.  But it was also one of the most profound moments of my life- working with the pain, accepting it, saying “L___” by name to come out.  There were of course several contractions when I just couldn’t take it and screamed and writhed (which made it worse), but those moments when I just bore the pain and allowed it to consume my body felt as if they were filled with purpose and power.  After my water was broken, I went from ~4 cm to 10cm (complete) in only 2-3 hours, after laboring for ~35.

When L finally was born, all the emotional pain vanished and it was one of the top three happiest moments in my life so far!  It was a very profound, deep joy to hold him and have him lay next to me with bright open eyes for an hour as we rested, before we were moved back down to our sleeping room.  The weeks that followed with a newborn were emotionally and physically taxing, and once in the middle of a sleepless night I regretted conceiving a child.  But all in all after two years, I would say that parenting has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  One of the most wonderful things to happen to me!

Yesterday, Maundy Thursday, I was in our church’s prayer room meditating on the account in Mark’s gospel of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.

maxresdefault“And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:35-36 ESV

What struck me yesterday about Jesus was that he did not run away from the pain. And neither did he fight it in anger.  He accepted the pain.  Another gospel writer, Luke, tells us that his agony in this moment was so great that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)  He did not want the pain and even asked his Father to remove this trial from him, but left it in the Father’s will, not his own.  And we know he continued to embrace the pain for himself without anger, as he prayed for those mocking and killing him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 22:34) His anguish grew greater as the moment of his death grew closer, as he experienced not only excruciating physical pain, but also spiritual rejection from the Father, hell itself: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

We all know the end of the story (a story which, if it were false, likely would not have had enough credibility in the Jewish community to result in the foundation and spread of a new religion).  Jesus rose from the dead.  The result of him accepting his suffering was his own rebirth and the spiritual rebirth of any who believe in him.  The result of his acceptance of the pain is that is now highly exalted: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:8-11)  He already was holy as God, but through this experience of obedience to God’s will of suffering for him, he was made even more fully perfect (Hebrews 5:8-9)  For he not only died for those he loved, he died for those who hated him, his enemies.  (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus embraced the pain.  He did not fight it, neither did he flee, even though the people were taunting him to do so if he was truly God.

One of the things I have become aware of since marrying my husband is that people, by personality, tend to do one of two things in the fact conflict or pain: fight it or flee.  Confrontation or isolation.  Angry venting of emotion of stuffing it deep down inside.  I’m the angry venting type and he’s the stuffing type.  (Certainly some overlap exists.)

But Jesus did neither of these things.  Jesus was not afraid of pain, like I am.  It weighed heavily on him in the days leading up to it, yes, but he remained confident.

Pain is part of redemption.  In this fallen world, pain is part of birth. And it is a crucial part of spiritual rebirth.  Instead of fighting away pain, perhaps we must surrender to it and work through it, the way Jesus surrendered to the painful will of his Father.

Pain has purpose. Working through the pain of childbirth gave me my son.  Working the through the pain of crucifixion brought Jesus to incredible glory, while also bringing about the rebirth of many.

Any pain the Lord allows in my life is to bring me to a greater place somehow, someday.  I do not need to be nervous about its potential.  It will hurt and it will be turmoil.  Jesus sweat like drops of blood.  It was an excruciating experience, to physically suffer and be rejected by God.  But the Father brought him through it to greater glory.

And that’s why today, commemorating a painful day, is called Good Friday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2015 8:52 pm

    Thank you Kate. A profound Good Friday meditation. I will look forward to using some of these thoughts someday, with appropriate credit, of course. Love, Dad

  2. Christiana Mills permalink
    April 4, 2015 1:22 am

    Thanks for writing this, Kate. I too struggle with feeling like my life has been pretty easy, and fearing what trial might be coming. Your post was an excellent reminder of our Father’s purpose in leading us through pain.

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