I woke this morning from a dream in which I was setting out to bike over a bridge. Before I could get onto the bridge, though, I had to squeeze through a segment that was more like a tight tunnel than a bridge. It was so tight, in fact, that to get through I had to go headfirst. And my head could only fit in one position, turned precisely to fit the shape of the tunnel.
The imagery seemed familiar, and a minute or two after waking, I realized: I was being born. With the recognition came encouragement: Tight places are often a passage into new life and greater freedom.
The journey through the birth canal serves not only the obvious function of moving the baby from the dark place of early growth out into the wide world. It also squeezes fluid out of the baby’s lungs, preparing her to breathe.
Might each of life’s tight places help us leave something behind, preparing us to breathe the fresh air of God’s grace?
A dozen years ago, I was pressed and squeezed as one of several and then the only doctor for 150,000 people until I couldn't continue. Losing my ability to practice medicine (and, for a while, to get out of bed), I was made small, emptied of my health, my career, the people I loved in the little Afghan village where I’d been working for 4 years. I was emptied—at least a little—of finding my worth in something outside of God.
The emptying was painful. But in the emptying, I became freer than I'd ever been to breathe God’s gentle compassion.
Later, diagnosed with PTSD and depression, another lungful of pride was squeezed out of me. I was already physically broken. I didn’t want to be mentally broken too. But here again God has been at work, helping me breathe more deeply of his grace that always surrounds and holds me.
I don’t know how it is for you, but I (unfortunately!) seem to need to keep going through tight places to free me up to breathe more deeply. I slowly drift back into an unhealthy sense of responsibility, or my desire for security or control resurfaces in more obvious ways. And then something like Covid 19 begins to walk the world and appropriate restrictions are imposed and I'm given the chance to notice my discomfort as the hidden places in which I’ve been finding comfort and security are threatened. I feel the bony edges of the birth canal, the squeeze of the forces pressing me—towards life.
As we began May and I was praying about this month, I realized that I needed to lift the burden of trying to accomplish a particular project or a set amount of writing. I needed to pay attention to what my body and emotions were telling me, and return to basics: soaking in the truth of how God sees me, finding ways to help my body feel hugged when I can’t get that from anyone else.
And (surprise!) as I’ve been focussing on staying grounded in God’s love during these first ten days of May, the rest of life has begun to go a little more smoothly again. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Like the rest of us, I’m still being squeezed through the birth canal. But I can see how God is using this time of still deeper awareness of my desperate need for him to bring me back (yet again!) to living the way I need to live all of the time, my primary focus always on abiding in Christ’s love.
Thankfully, we have a God who doesn’t waste anything. Including tight and painful places.