Labor and Redemption: Joy

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).

“Your joy is sorrow unmasked,” Kahil Gibran advises in his poem On Joy and Sorrow. “Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” 

I pause in the hallway. I can tell another contraction is almost here so Jamie, having learned to recognize my signals, steps behind me to support my body. It slowly crests and fades. Even after it is gone, there is no relief from the pressure of her skull against my spine. My first daughter is resisting her birth. Or perhaps it was me who was resisting. Whichever. There are no windows in the hallways or the delivery rooms. I don’t know how much time has passed. It seems like forever. I feel trapped in a clock that is no longer ticking.

Two year later, I’m screaming variants of, “I don’t want to do this!” and, “Make it stop!” It felt as though my body would rip itself in half from the inside out. I was certain my second daughter was determined to be born by bursting through my abdomen. The pain was unrelenting, multiplying with every successive contraction that arrived seconds after the one before. I surrender to this pain, I whispered over and over again, but the next contraction came, and I was screaming again. I am trapped in the passenger seat of a speeding vehicle that prevents any coping positions. My survival instinct told me to fight as I wrestled against my body’s writhing. I most definitely did not surrender to the pain. I can see nothing but pain. I raged against its hold on me.  

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come, Jesus teaches his disciples, but when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. Maternal amnesia is God’s mercy to the mother who exchanges writhing for joy. This inexplicable transaction contains a lesson on love, redemption, and sacrifice. Perhaps Jesus has stood in the vicinity of a birthing room to hear the cries give way to laughter. Perhaps this has taught Jesus the language of his own divine forgetfulness when it comes to soul piercing. The work of Woman that teaches us the language of the inseparability of joy and sorrow. It is the work, I think, of Christ. For there is no joy without the anguish that teaches us to recognize it.

Sarah, the ancient matriarch, longed all her years for a child that she could not bear. She was post-menopausal when she miraculously conceived and birthed a son. She called him Isaac because, “God has made me laugh.” Her groans existed long and far outside of pregnancy and birth. She had spent her years groaning for a child until hope had gone, the dream was lost. Her months were marked with writhing upon her bed when she menstruated once again. She loved and carried Isaac all her life then she mourned him and buried him. When the time for miraculous joy arrived, the potency of years of grief faded. Sorrow slept, and Sarah laughed.

Jesus uses language that God and Woman know most intimately. The language of the sorrow of pain and loss that vanishes in the moment of joy. I suppose that God carried the sorrow that his beloved needing redeeming in the first place. I suppose that God carries the sorrow of that pain and loss until the moment we receive him again. I suppose that those who receive redemption may only know joy again because Jesus exchanged a life of heavenly joy for humanly sorrow. His sorrow birthed joy, our joy. Through the pain and sorrow now, when we laugh again in the arms of Christ that sorrow will sleep forever. Until joy laughs forever and sorrow sleeps eternal, we thank God for Jesus and Woman who have taught us so well the friendship of sorrow and joy. Whether it is sorrow we know right now or joy – Christ is there.

I receive Madelyn, tossing my head back in joyful relief. She’s here! I sigh with satisfaction.I look at Jamie. Sorrow sleeps, and we laugh.

I reach for Emmaline, leaning forward in ecstatic shock. That’s my baby! I scream. I look at Jamie. Sorrow sleeps, and we laugh.

I knew one thing with absolute certainty, that I would do it all again a thousand times to even hold them once or love them for a second. Some days, they will be my soul piercer. Some days, God forbid, I will be theirs. But today, today and every day, they are my joy.

[1] Genesis 21:1-8

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