It’s just after midnight on Holy Saturday. A day that I never expected to reach while still pregnant, eleven days past my due date. I’m awake not exactly by choice, but because every night I don’t take a Benadryl, I seem limited to a four-hour quota of sleep. I am blessed by a savory midnight dessert of bone broth and Irish soda bread – made by two different dear friends who thought of me in their kitchens, despite having very busy lives and families of their own to feed.
My eyes are tired, my limbs are tired, my mind is tired… but my heart keeps me awake. My heart that is tiredest of all.
I tried for many, many days to hold it together. To have a good attitude. To be grateful for all the help I was receiving – still am receiving – and for how healthy we are. My frustration started coming out sideways at my medical care providers, whose limits of policy and procedure seem to create unfair pressure, but I tried to control that too.
Eventually I figured out that I was holding it together by cutting myself off from my feelings. Feelings I was ashamed of – resentment, bitterness, anger, self-pity – feelings that I felt I had no right to, that I knew would do me no good, that as far as I knew would just leave me feeling bad with no out. But cutting them off was cutting me off from everyone. From myself, from my spouse, from my daughter, and from my baby, whose arrival was feeling more and more like an anticlimax. Like I’m waiting not to welcome a new human being into the world, but to get over a lingering cold.
I knew it was bad when someone commented Wednesday on how cheerful I was.
So out of desperation, knowing it the only right thing to do, I let the feelings in today. I confessed them and examined them, with their gross sources. I looked in my heart and found that I did not throw myself upon the cross; I saw it as a challenge to compete with. My resentment was at myself, for not being a better person than Jesus. My fear is of needing him, of finding myself truly inadequate. My fear is of falling apart with no one to put me back together but him, and having to live in that vulnerability outside the privacy of my own head.
I fell apart before Jesus, only later realizing it was the very hour we remember his death.
Every hour that passes feels like a lament now. A lament that, I still can’t help but think, is not fair for me to feel. What do I have to complain about? Eleven days late is not actually an eternity. In the days when women were allowed to go longer, babies could be a month late. We’re both perfectly healthy, and have been the whole pregnancy. I am not that uncomfortable, honestly; she has room and seems to be content. Maybe this is just how God made us – I cook my babies long, and there’s not actually anything wrong with that.
Of course, any reasonable person in my society would give me plenty of reason to be upset. To be tired and miserable. No one is going to tell me I have anything to apologize for.
It makes sense. But it doesn’t make sense. I can’t logic myself out of being angry and bitter and sad, and I can’t logic myself into being okay with being angry and bitter and sad. I just have to go to Jesus. Go to Jesus, go to Jesus, go to Jesus. Whom we remember at this moment being buried in a tomb. Killed horribly for a political crime by an unjust court. Who went willingly to his death as a sheep trusting its master, opening not his mouth.
Why do I bother aspiring to be that? Jesus, older brother, example, pathmaker, how can I hope to follow in your footsteps? Can I just accept that your sacrifice is for me? A gift freely given to receive without deserving?
Peter somehow understood the paradox, the dichotomy, of grace and holiness:
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:13-19
There it is, in black and white: be holy, but with your hope set fully on grace. Conduct yourself with fear, not to earn anything, but because you were ransomed by Christ. It’s really not that complicated. Justification then sanctification; just don’t get it mixed up, bonehead.
But my pride has confused me too much. I have made sanctification into some kind of ambition, for my own purposes. Not to be better than anyone else, just to avoid being exposed for as weak as I am. In so doing I have used the cross as an excuse to reject grace rather than the only means to receive it. For today, that is my death to self. That is my crawling into the tomb beside Christ, asking him to slay this part of me, trusting him to raise anything that is worth redeeming. He must do it. I am not only not able; I am barely willing. I can barely hope to remember well enough to attempt willingness; I know I am too likely to walk away from this mirror and forget what I look like.
So I go to Jesus. I go to Jesus sorry for my sins, sorry for my attitude, sorry for my weakness, but ask him to help me accept his love. He is so kind, always so kind, so gentle with this bruised reed. Never a thought of giving up on me. Just a smile, and the strength for one more day. This is the God man who trampled down death with death. My sins are nothing for him to overcome.
He bore the sins of the whole world. He bore a new people, children he could call his own, bringing them into new life, into freedom from sin, into union with God, by atoning for their sin with his own death.He was a man, but he had a womb, that too poured blood and water when we were born in him. And his Spirit still groans on our behalf, to bring us forth into wholeness.
So I guess he knows what I’m going through.
I send loving messages to my baby girl, to come when she is ready, that we want to love her as she is. That she is a person, not a statistic, and we will do our best to let her come safely into the world as herself, and not as statistics say she should. I must force myself to be honest enough with those I trust to cry, horrifying as that is. I go out into the world, eleven (or more) days overdue, and experiment again with being vulnerable. To peel back the thin layer of cheerfulness, then the thick layer of grumpiness, then the transparent layer of sadness, to the tiny bit of me where Jesus is making me new. To maybe let my weakness point to him. Maybe. Probably I will fail. No, definitely. But maybe I’ll point to him anyway. That’s out of my hands too. That’s how it works.
So, I don’t know why I’m still pregnant. I’m physically fine, but sometimes I feel really awful. I am trying to trust God that he will make a way, but it’s really hard.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” John 16:20-24 (ESV)
4 thoughts on “Meditations from the Belly of the Whale”
Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. Heart vulnerable, anguish defined, falling on Jesus in these hard moments. So moving to read. Thank-you for sharing how you are bearing up.
Reading of your strength in these eleven days has encouraged me to bear up and fall on Jesus as I go to the funeral service of our godson today. I am so glad I “happened” to read this first! You have given me strength to go through this day.
Oh no, Mary! I am so sorry for your loss. Praying for you and his family tonight.
“So I guess he knows what I’m going through” Yes.
“she is a person, not a statistic” Yes.
“let my weakness point to him” Yes
Gracious God, we thank you for this new life which dwells with Rebecca. Give her sleep for the nights and energy for the days; give her joy in the moments and patience in the hours as she waits for the birth of her child. Amen.