“Fear Not, For I Am with You”: The Vocation of Vulnerability
I’m scared. I admit it. I wish there was a different word to use to describe this emotion, but what mother isn’t at least a little bit anxious in the days leading up to the labor and delivery of her child?
While there are certainly physical issues to be concerned about, mostly, I’m scared of the pain.
I’ve done this before. Five times. (Seven times, if you count babies too bitty to live. Somehow, those labors and deliveries seem just as painful, but less physically and more emotionally.) I know there’s a beautiful, wonderful, kissable, squishy, precious baby on the other side of the pain. But, I won’t get that baby until I go through the pain. And it’s the going through it part that scares me.
I’ve been wrestling with the fear of this pain. On the one hand, I know and believe that God will be with me through this labor and delivery. On the other hand, I realize that God doesn’t promise Christians a pain-free existence (1 Peter 4:12) and that pain in childbirth is a very real result of the fall into sin (Gen. 3:16).
The pains of labor can quickly make a woman feel like a “victim.” An unwanted force is being inflicted upon her. Any rational person would try to flee from pain. Of course I should be frightened! And yet, God commands His people over and over to “fear not.” And so, the paradox: I am His child. But, how can I not fear? The sin of fear seems so natural, easy, and inbred in me.
And yet, how can one be a victim to one’s own body, especially when the force of the pain truly brings about good, a baby? There is such obvious purpose in the suffering and pain of labor, that it makes one question if the word “victim” is really the right one.
Perhaps a different “V” word fits the situation better? The physical struggles we endure in the birthing process leave a woman vulnerable. And it’s not just that we happen to be vulnerable, but rather, that we have a specific calling to be vulnerable.
The calling of motherhood is a calling of love. To love is to allow oneself to be vulnerable, to hurt, to have pain, on behalf of others. While the sacrifice of vulnerability is against our selfish human nature, it is the beautiful journey of those newly created in the image of Christ.
Jesus took on flesh for the very purpose of suffering. He became a vulnerable human person because of His great love for me, for you. He isn’t a God from afar, watching impersonally as I experience pain; rather, He goes through the pain with me and hurts as I hurt. It’s not that God isn’t powerful enough to take away the pain and suffering, but rather that He understands infinitely better than I do the good that He plans to build through this hurt.
On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He prayed in a garden. As true God, He knew the pain that would be his—the pain of the suffering and guilt of the entire human race. He took that to the cross, exchanging His life for mine, for yours.
Yet, as He prayed, he prayed as a true human, asking God to make a different way for salvation. He asked His Father to take this “cup” from Him (Matt. 26:38–39). He was overwhelmed as he considered the difficult road before Him. Jesus allowed Himself to be humbled, vulnerable to the point of death, because of His great love for sinners. Even knowing what was before Him, He rose from prayer, strengthened and determine to save us.
With this in mind, can I forgo fear as I face labor and delivery? Logically, I know there will be pain, so I look to God’s truth to combat my fear.
- Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4).
- The very hairs of my head are numbered. Do not fear therefore (Luke 12:7).
- Fear not, for God is with me…. God will strengthen me, yes, He will help me, and uphold me with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
- I did not receive the spirit of fear, but the Spirit of adoption by whom I cry out “Father” (Romans 8:15).
- God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and love (2 Timothy 1:7).
- I may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:6).
- Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
My love for my child, while very strong, is certainly not perfect. I even have selfish reasons for welcoming labor (excessive waddling, internal organ compression). My love for this child alone cannot not cast out all my fear. But, Christ’s love for me (and my baby) is both strong and perfect. Only when I rest in His love, will I find relief for the anxiety and fear of pain that must come, through the vocation of vulnerability brought about by the travails of labor, to bring this baby into the world.
And when I cannot cling or rest in Him because of my sinful fears, I know I remain His child, with His arms wrapped around me. I have been bought with the price of His blood. He cannot let me go. He will not abandon me to the pain and suffering. He Himself has suffered greater than this because of His love for me. That love made Him vulnerable to the point of death. He will bring me through to the other side of vulnerability and pain, holding me through it all.
“Fear not, I am with you; O be not dismayed,
For I am your God and will still give you aid;
I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
He will not, He cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
He never will leave, He will never forsake. (ELH 521:2,5)
When the time comes, and the pains are great, how can I cast out fear? It won’t be with my own strength, or with logic or false hope; it can only be with truth and Jesus. When I’m feeling afraid as the labor pains pick up, I hope to:
1. Pray like Jesus in Gethsemane:
Under great emotional strain, He laid His request before His Father. His honest emotions still accepted the will of God. “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Matthew 26:39).
2. Fix My Eyes on Jesus:
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hebrews 12:1–3).
3. Give Thanks:
Thank you, God, that the baby is safe. Thank you, God, that this will be over soon. Thank you, God, for surrounding me with my loved ones and people who are keeping me safe. Thank you, God, that I don’t have to give birth in a prison camp, or in the elements, or alone. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
4. Think About Baby:
“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
5. Focus on the Eternal:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
6. Cling to Christ’s Peace:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
“In Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)
Thanks to my midwife Erika Urban for helping me sort out some of these feelings and the language of victim verses vulnerability.
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (2018) and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).
TAGS: Worldview, Thanksgiving, Christianity, Motherhood, Mothering Many