Well, I suppose I can’t really make that comparison, since I haven’t died yet. (When we’re all in heaven, I’ll let you know if my theory holds up…) The following might be a bit scattered, so I apologize. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some meaning in my ramblings.
And no, I’m not implying that giving birth is so awful that it’s like dying. That’s not the point at all.
After having Josie, I marveled at the enormity of what I had just experienced. There are no words to describe the act of giving birth. People have sheepishly asked what it felt like — and I can only list vague modifiers to describe the experience. It was intense, indescribable, overwhelming, all-consuming, mentally and physically exhausting…but I cannot hope to land on any words currently in the English language that could convey the full truth of the experience.
I wondered, when reflecting on the intensity of the day that led up to Josie’s birth, how I had been so confident all through my pregnancy. I had said things like, “Yeah, I’m planning to have a natural birth.” People would look at me wide-eyed, some would scoff, all would acknowledge that this would be a huge undertaking. But I, for the most part, remained unshaken. At times I felt a little nervous, at times a little scared, but in general I remained in blissful ignorance. After all, there was no way for me to prepare myself for the full experience without actually living through it. I had taken the classes, I had reviewed the materials, and there was little else I could do. Still, after actually giving birth, I scolded myself for not taking it more seriously. Why had this not been the subject of EVERY prayer, ever since I found out I was pregnant? Why had I not asked others to pray for me? Why had I failed to acknowledge that this was something that extended far beyond me and my own capabilities — something with which I would absolutely need divine intervention? Was it arrogance, or ignorance?
I wonder if my attitude toward death is similarly flawed. I tell myself and others, “I will go to heaven when I die.” I say it with the same cavalier expression used when telling people, “I plan to give birth naturally.” I wear it as a badge, as an expression that somehow says more about my identity than it does about my beliefs or my actual preparedness for the event.
I don’t think about death much. I don’t wait in anticipation of heaven, though the gospel writers say I should. When I DO think about heaven, I rely on the childlike rendition of my understanding: that it is GOOD, that God is just, and that I will, by the grace of Jesus, be permitted to enter.
But the full truth of that experience is so far beyond my comprehension. What will it be like when my soul passes from my body — when my spirit passes into a realm of blinding glory and then must encounter the mighty, the beautiful, the terrible, the awe-inspiring reality of God? What will I feel when I see, fully and clearly, the extent of my depravity and finally understand the full depth of Jesus’ sacrifice? I have a feeling that I will look back and wonder how I spent my whole life in such blind bliss. How was this encounter with the Almighty, this passage into the eternal, not a constant thought? How was it not the topic of EVERY prayer since I began to believe in Christ? Have I been living in arrogance? In Ignorance?
My friend Ellen has a slightly different (but probably more coherent) thought about birth and death. She said that when she was pregnant with her first child, she wanted someone to tell her exactly what giving birth would be like. No one could. Others could offer support and encouragement and help her feel prepared, but when it came right down to it, no one could give birth FOR her. She had to do it on her own. It was just her and God.
She said that this is what dying must be like. No one can tell us exactly what we will experience. Others can support us, can offer encouragement, and can try to help us prepare — but when it comes right down to it, no one can die FOR us. We have to do it on our own, just us and God. All else is stripped away.
When I got pregnant, I remember thinking that I had 9 whole months to be pregnant and to prepare. But I didn’t spend much of that 9 months preparing — I just lived my life the way I always had for the most part, because that’s what seemed the most practical. Then, more quickly than I had expected, that 9 months was up. My time had come to give birth.
My life is, in some ways, equivalent to that 9 month pregnancy. I am young now – and I feel like I have my whole life to be alive and to “prepare” for becoming old and for approaching death. But I haven’t been living in a way that is preparing me for anything much beyond my own small goals and dreams. I just live my life the way I always have, for the most part, because that’s what seems the most practical. And someday, more quickly than I expect, I will find that the full span of my life has passed. Just as I quickly went from being pregnant to being a mom, I will quickly pass from being a mortal human to being eternally in the presence of God. My time will come to die.
To be sure, the timing is a bit different. 9 months is nothing when compared to a lifetime. But there is something about experiencing the full process of birth that makes me tremble when I think of the full process of death. For me, this is an incredibly valuable realization. I think I need to tremble when I think of God and His processes. Yes, He promises to work all together for our GOOD — a foundational verse for my childhood belief system, and one which has led me to rest calmly in my ignorance. But the thing is, things that are “good” are not necessarily pleasant or enjoyable or even desirable from a human point of view.
Josie’s birth was extremely good. It is probably the greatest good that has ever come upon me. BUT, the process and the experience was NOT pleasant or enjoyable. It is not an experience that I find desirable. It IS a “good” that should cause me to tremble before our Lord. It IS a “good” that is totally beyond me and my capabilities — it is a work of God that requires my total surrender.
If I have learned anything from this refining experience, it is that so little of my life is actually about ME. I do not control things that I think I control…I am not the center of worth in my own existence. This is both freeing and frightening. It means that I am less important in and of myself — but if I surrender to the GOOD that God has for me, no matter how huge or overwhelming, I become a part of something beyond my own limitations. I become a piece of a plan forged by a God who causes me to tremble.