Redefining The Pains Of Labor
When we had our first child my wife did all the hard work. She carried the weight, dealt with the emotions, felt the labor pains and eventually gave birth to our first daughter. I pretty much stood there and watched. At the time they called my role “coaching”, which entailed standing by and giving signals to encourage her to breathe the appropriate way. In those particular moments of giving birth, I’m not sure she appreciated my “coaching” efforts. But, in the end, both of us were delighted at the outcome. A new birth had taken place and we had a baby girl!
I was reading the Old Testament prophet Micah this week and He speaks of a time when the children of God will experience the excruciating pains of labor. It will be a time when they will be exiled to Babylon as captives in a foreign land.
“ Writhe in agony, daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.” Micah 4:10
In these words from the prophet there is a message that speaks of pain and suffering. But it is also a message of hope, for God promises to rescue and redeem His people and make them strong again. Though they will experience pain, their pain is not the final word. From what my wife tells me, there are not many experiences as painful as childbirth. But it is a pain that results in something amazingly wonderful. It is a pain that results in the birth of something living and new. And the memories of pain are eclipsed by the memories of the new life revealed. In this way the painful circumstance becomes the crucible for transformation and the revelation of something better.
This perspective allows for the reframing of pain as a passageway through which something better makes its way. Micah did not prophesy the absence of pain, but instead fully recognized the pain that would precede new life. In that same way I believe in my experience of pain and discomfort in life there is something being produced that is of greater value. My character is being transformed by God’s grace and love. Sometimes that transforming process is uncomfortable, sometimes painful, but always potentially transformative. The Apostle Paul says it this way, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
In light of this, one question I might ask myself when I find myself uncomfortable or in pain is, “What is the Lord intending to produce in me so that I might be more like Him? This question helps me to move through and beyond the pain and focus instead upon that Christ affirming character which is being produced in me. It also shifts my focus from assigning blame regarding my pain to receiving the transforming grace found in times of weakness and affliction. Too often I can end up paralyzed by the pain rather than continuing to move forward through God’s transformative process of labor and birth. In all of my places of discomfort, pain and “shadow of death” experiences God promises to walk with me. He promises that He is producing something far better out of this process than ever could be experienced apart from His transformative process. Pain does not need to be a terminal experience. Pain does not need to be the final word. In Christ pain is just the transformative labor that precedes the revelation of new life. Jesus, His life, His love and His grace, is the final word.
As you move into this next month, there will be moments of trouble and pain to experience in a transformative way. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Listen for His promise of new life that follows the labor and pain of childbirth. Then watch for the ways your life has been shaped to more reflect His life and love. It is this transformed life that is truly beautiful and restorative to the world in which we live. It is the appropriate way to engage with and relate to this world.