Comfort when life is messy

Welcome! Pull up a chair. If you’re reading this online rather than via email, you’ll notice that I’ve been working this week to transfer my blog to a new home to better welcome you, and the move is still in process. If you can’t see the search button or the list of topics, that’s because I haven’t unpacked them yet. The pictures aren’t hung and nothing is quite in its right place, but I’m so glad you’ve come anyway. The kettle’s on and we’ll pause in the midst of the mess to notice that God is here too.

The fact is, sometimes I hear God’s heartbeat most clearly when I haven’t managed to tidy everything up. Maybe it’s because then I most need to hear his heartbeat reminding me that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved, and that the Holy Spirit delights to hover over formless chaos and from it shape ruby-throated hummingbirds and the milky ribbon of stars in a clear winter sky and the sun glinting on the tips of salty ocean waves.

Creation is like that. We see a newborn baby or the first green shoot of spring peeking up from the ground and it awakens within us hope, and tenderness, and a desire to protect the new little life. The mystery is great, and the awe, and the hope. But also the mess. Someone got dirt under their fingernails planting those bulbs. Someone made space within herself and carried that baby-in-formation through three-quarters of a year of nausea and back pain, heartburn and mood swings, weariness and the little guest tucking himself up under her ribs or kicking her bladder or doing aerobics when she was trying to sleep. Someone breathed through the pains, and soaked the carpet when the water broke, and wondered if she could do it, and gave all her strength to push this new bit of life out into the world, slippery with fluid and blood and caked with white vernix. The coming of new life is messy.

That’s one of the reasons that the Psalmist’s understanding of God as midwife so delights me. People who choose to make their life’s work caring for women and the life coming into being through them aren’t generally afraid of the mess. Nor of the unpredictability of the process. And so in the messiest and most dangerous moments in his life, the Psalmist cries out to the divine Midwife.

In Psalm 71:6, when the Psalmist’s life is threatened by enemies, he prays, “It was you who took me from my mother’s womb.” The Hebrew text reads, “It was you who cut me from my mother’s womb,” picturing God as the midwife cutting the psalmist’s umbilical cord at his birth.

In another of the most painful times of his life, when his sense of being abandoned by God was accompanied by physical illness and exhaustion and desertion by friends, David finds hope in the reminder that the same God who was present at his physical birth, guarding his life, still tends him: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb. You kept me safe on my mother’s breast” (Ps 22:9) The Hebrew literally says, “Yet it was you who pulled me out of the womb. . . ,” picturing a midwife helping a baby be born.

It is quite possible that Jesus himself turned for comfort to the image of God as Midwife. From the cross, his raw back rubbing rough wood with each word, Jesus cries the first words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, and the writer of Hebrews quotes Jesus as speaking v. 22 in the context of his suffering (Hebrews 2:12). As a Jewish boy, Jesus would have memorized large portions of Scripture, and in his agony, this entire psalm may well have become his prayer, its poetry wrapping up all the outer details and inner wrestlings of those hours leading to his death, holding open space for trust during his excruciating birthing of us, “a people yet unborn” (v. 31), into the inner life of the Trinity. Every part of him burned: his pierced hands and feet, his dislocated joints; Jesus, along with the psalmist, may have cried that his heart had melted within him (v. 14). He was being torn apart, as though by “roaring lions that tear their prey” (v. 13). If Jesus was indeed praying this whole psalm on the cross, then for help in the tearing, burning intensity of his labor, he turned to the divine Midwife: “Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God” (v. 9-10) “In you our ancestors trusted . . . and you delivered them,” he reminded himself (v. 4). Into the skilled and gentle hands that had delivered him and thousands before him he could commit his body and spirit.

I’m intrigued that David and likely Jesus as well (both men!) found comfort in the image of God as Midwife. In Galatians 4:19, the apostle Paul addresses the recipients of his letter, “My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you . . .” He paints a startling picture in which all Christian believers (women and men!) are pregnant and Christ is the baby growing inside of us.

It’s an incredible privilege to carry Jesus within us. But I also know from my experience as an obstetrician walking with women through their pregnancies that as much as they might love the child being formed within them, pregnancy can be frightening. Spiritual pregnancy—Christ being formed in me—can feel scary and out of my control too—particularly knowing that this One being formed in me isn’t afraid of calling me to come and die on my way into new life. When fear rises, or I’m aware of my messiness, there’s comfort in knowing I’m in good hands, being cared for by the same skilled Midwife who was there at my own birth, unseen but present and wise and tender. That midwife is still guarding my life and skillfully working to safely deliver the life that is coming into being in and through me.

How is it for you to consider that strong and gentle hands are holding you and all that concerns you, even in the times you might not feel those hands?

Is there anything you’d like to say to your divine Midwife right now?


Photo by Alex Hockett on Unsplash

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Janna Lock

    I hadn’t thought of God as midwife. Because I have no medical background. You did it beautifully. I cannot forget the birth of my first. I was so excited when the waters broke. But that was the start of things going wrong. A horror in a very small country town. But 100 miles away there was a specialist God was there all along. We both survived. His plans are perfect even when we feel He is absent Thank you for your thoughts janna

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Wow! Sounds like quite the experience, Janna. I’m so glad God was there looking after you and that you both survived!

  2. Esther

    This is tremendous! I am a blogger and this is just beautiful! Someone sent this to me when they read what I wrote on Sunday. I would ask your permission to share it on my FB group. Thank you for hearing God’s heartbeat for each of us!

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks, Esther. I’m glad you found it helpful. You’re most welcome to share any posts you find here.

  3. Bonita

    Hmmm! So good and challenging. The line “this One being formed in me isn’t afraid of calling me to come and die on my way into new life” is the part that scares me! I love the idea that Christ is being formed in me but I do indeed feel a bit apprehensive at times.
    To think about His/Her hands holding me I feel a bit unworthy is the first thing that came to my mind. I don’t always behave in the best way I should, and I certainly don’t understand all that is going on in my relationships and especially in Sudan right now.
    I want Christ to be formed in me but not of my own doing or efforts because that just sounds tiring and like it won’t get me very far. I would like some guidance as to what to expect from the midwife, what’s coming next. Perhaps sometimes though if I knew what was coming I’d be scared but some encouragement would certainly help.
    Thank you Carolyn for this and for helping us in this process, it strikes me that you are being a bit like a midwife to all of us. Mwah!

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks for these thoughts, Bonita. That part of being called to come and die often scares me too. I think that’s a normal part of being human. It encourages me to remember that even Jesus agonized over heading to the cross. We are not meant to want to die!
      I think feeling unworthy is also a healthy part of the process. We ARE unworthy. But we are also loved and wanted and cherished more deeply than we can imagine. In a way feeling our unworthiness is part of what opens us up to receiving the gift of his love and grace. Until we really know we’re unworthy and not able to make ourselves worthy, we keep trying to prove that we’re loveable. Only once we accept that we’re not worthy are we free enough to receive love that is freely given, not earned. And then our focus can shift to the beauty of the love rather than our own unworthiness. Does that make sense?
      Also, I can identify with the desire to know what’s coming next, and yet the awareness that if I knew what was coming I might be scared. For me that desire to know what’s coming next seems to arise from a desire to control the journey, which short-circuits trust and the growth that needs to take place in me. I’m slowly recognizing that it’s a good thing that God doesn’t usually show me too many steps down the road, just the next right step. He is also wise and kind, and when he knows it really would be helpful for me to see a little further ahead, he will give me a heads up about what’s coming.

  4. Marny Watts

    Yes, like Bonita, I feel as if God enabled your short career as an obstetrician partly in order to help us all understand and experience these images of God in Scripture that are so often missed! I don’t remember ever considering before those thoughts about David and likely Jesus as well (both men!) finding comfort in the image of God as Midwife. So thankful for that divine midwife still working to safely deliver the life of Jesus that is coming into being in and through me! Love you! Mom

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks, Mom. Yes, I’m grateful too!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.