Labor and Redemption: Grace

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV).

GET HER OUT! I sat up with a scream directed at no one in particular. With a cry of fury and pain, my first daughter was born.

What’s taking so long? Hours before her birth, I lean against Jamie. I’ve been pushing for an hour now. My nurse gently assures me my baby is coming, but her arrival is slowed by reluctant pelvic bones. Another hour passes. My nurses tell me that after a lengthy first stage of labor, I’m running out of endurance to complete the second stage. I need to rest from active pushing so my body can regain strength. They turn off the lights, I lean into Jamie’s arms, I quiet. The pain is not so severe now. For the next two hours I quietly bear down as my body dictates, resting between contractions. I do not sleep, but I am not asking by body to work so hard now. Surely not much longer, I partly state, partly ask, Jamie. It was much longer – two more hours after the four that had already passed. I existed within one contraction after the other. I am so tired. My neck hurts, my back hurts, my arms shake, my legs tremble. My body is telling me what to do, but every contraction demanded all my strength. I think there is nothing left until the next contraction arrives and I promise myself just one more time. When the moment came, I knew. At last, I call her into my arms with a cry of exhaustion, pain, relief, and, most of all, power.  

Eve’s birth cry was more composed than mine, I have produced a man with the help of the LORD, she cried. To read it, eleven stark words passively welcome the first child of the world. A childbearer, however, knows the mix of pain, joy, and relief expressed in this primal call. A thousand generations since Eve have gone about the work of childbearing, but Eve was the first to know that mysterious mix of hope and heartbreak. God had not only offered a warning in childbearing. He offered a gift. God spoke to the serpent a promise to the woman, I will put enmity between you and the Woman and between your offspring and hers. Within the explanation of Fall’s consequences, within the warning of pain, was embedded a promise of life. Eve’s birth cry called the fulfillment of God’s promise to her chest. She lived in the earth now dominated by death. Nevertheless, she birthed an eternal soul. This is life, and life comes from Yahweh alone. Under the consequences of the Fall, she would have screamed through birth’s agony while Adam furiously tilled uncooperative soil that now preferred to sprout weeds instead of fruit bearing trees. Yet still. She’s birthed a baby that testifies to her and to us that God is still about the work of creating. He has called woman to share in this work with him. Eve’s birth, and every birth since, testifies to God’s persistent grace. He has not left us. I have produced a man with the help of the LORD

Childbearing. It is the work of life. It is our unmerited gift.

She answered my scream with a scream of her own until she curled on my chest as my heartbeat invited her home. Wrinkly, wet, bloody, and purple, she was brand new. I am certain that she must be the best thing God has ever called into being. He had once declared over his human creations, very good. Suddenly, I know exactly what he meant. There is nothing that will be, is, or has been more beautiful than she. I am intoxicated with love, hope, and peace. Surely Eve thought the same and more of her son. She had experienced pain, but she had also, most certainly, experienced grace abundant just like me. These new parents had high expectations for their little boy. Cain, the firstborn of history, bore the burdensome hope that he might be the salvation of the world who would rescue his parents and all people from the curse of the Fall. He was not, of course. He is instead remembered as the first murderer. In the end, Eve’s birth cry concluded with a mourning wail. It is the way that every birth cry ends. Her son, the destroyer of life, fell about as far short of the Creator of life as one can possibly get. He is the legacy of the Fall. Eve would find her hope disappointed for now, but her birth cry was as prophetic as it was ecstatic. Childbearing would bring forth the salvation of world. Just not yet.

Childbearing. The work of God.

[1] Genesis 2:23; 3:15; 4:1

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