People often don’t believe me when I say that I was in labor for 30 hours with my first child. But, I was there. I fully experienced every single one of the 1,800 or so minutes that finally, finally led up to the birth of our long-awaited precious daughter. I had never birthed a child before, and my first experience looked nothing like the movies. There was no dash to the hospital, no series of comical, zany roadblocks causing us to barely make it there in time. For me, it was a drudgery of many long, fearful hours and one night that I thought would never end, wondering what was normal, what was reasonable, and why my body wouldn’t just do what it was supposed to do.
Nurses called the doctor on call. He wasn’t inclined to come in. He wasn’t inclined to see me induced. He wasn’t inclined to allow me an epidural. He didn’t seem inclined to help me much at all, and I felt alone. Exhausted. I was in pain and I was anxious and I didn’t know what to do or what to expect, because this birth story was turning out nothing like the books said it would.
The sun must have just begun to peek over the west Texas horizon when our baby was finally born. It was just after 6am. I had spent part of New Year’s Eve and all of New Year’s Day laboring to bring this child into our world. It was now the second morning of a new year, and the first moment that I laid eyes on our sweet Adelade.
The Bible talks about childbirth a lot. Various prophecies describe childbirth as anguish, severe mental or physical suffering. I wouldn’t be able to use that word to describe my next two births. They were quick, easy, and my mind was more at ease. But, the hours I spent laboring to safely deliver Adelade into this world were anguished. Mental and physical suffering played major roles in my New Year’s Day back in 2005, and right at about three o’clock in the morning on January 2nd, I wondered how I would ever be able to talk myself into birthing another child when this ordeal was over.
But then she was born, and in a half second, all of the fear and misery and loneliness disappeared. My face, twisted with pain and hard work, suddenly spread into a wide smile as I looked with utter relief into the face of my child. I knew in that moment that I would do it all again, sign me up for another thirty hours, just for one opportunity to gaze at this mysterious little human being.
Jesus talks about this very moment in a mother’s life. Jesus, the maker and ruler of everything, our empathetic God (Hebrews 4:15), sits with His disciples as His own anguish is already beginning, far beyond what we can imagine. And He tells His closest friends that they, too, will experience pain and anguish, but like a mother who sees her child’s face for the first time, they will smile again. Their sorrow will be replaced by instant joy. (John 16:21)
Jesus, as He enters into His darkest hours, as He considers what His loved ones will endure, is thinking about a woman like me. He is thinking about women who, from the beginning of time, have identified with Christ through our anguish, laboring to bring forth a life that He created. He knows that His disciples will soon begin to identify with Him, too, and He brings a picture to their minds. A picture of a woman, groaning and grimacing and writhing and coming as near to death as she probably ever has, only to suddenly be met with the blessing of a lifetime. And this is the image that He plants in this moment, right into the minds and hearts of those He loves, those who will be met in a matter of hours with their worst nightmare. I wonder if any of them looked there again, to that portrait that Jesus had painted: a woman, exhausted, bleeding, trembling with sheer fatigue, her face now plastered with a huge grin as the sweat and tears mingle together on her pink cheeks. She beholds her child. And her anguish dissipates in an instant.
Joy comes in the morning. In my case, six in the morning.
And when Jesus appeared again, did His disciples finally understand what He meant when He sketched a tired mother in their minds? Complete joy filled their hearts, and all the anguish of the previous days was wiped away. Their Savior really is who He said He is. And what else really matters?
Later, when each of His disciples faced new troubles, new anguish, persecution, torture, desertion, or death, I wonder if they remembered these words of Christ. I wonder if they looked with fresh spiritual eyes at every woman holding a new baby, reminded once again that in the end, no matter what befalls us in this uncertain life, there is always a certain hope for the end of all anguish. A new morning is ever on the horizon of the Christian life, a new day where all sorrows are erased forever. When we see that day and the things of earth grow dim, I wonder if we will be surprised by how easy it turns out to be to exchange the anguish for pure joy.
[Mortals] say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.