Pregnancy, birth, and a new kind of Christianity … part 7

Responses keep coming in to my request for posts from mothers on pregnancy, birth, and a new kind of Christianity
A reader named Alice sent in this link to a relevant sermon that included this quote from Kester Brewin:

“Only if I am still. Only if I have stopped what I was doing to listen and hold my breath and enter some spiritual apnea and wait. The perception of the new step will come only to those brave enough to stop dancing the old. The realization that we must descend this low peak will come only to those prepared to stop and take stock of their position. We fear that if we stopped for a week, a month, a service, a moment, we might be forgotten, or lose our momentum, weaken our profile, appear ill-thought-out and failing” (46)…“So the truly free, the brave who truly seek God, will always have periods, commas, full stops, punctuation marks, pregnant pauses, breves and semi-breves of silence where those around them are given the freedom to walk; given space to deconstruct structures, to reimagine and rethink. Blue-sky thinking cannot happen while we rush around under thunderclouds of busyness” (Signs of Emergence, 47).

Alice then adds this brief comment …

Wish my thoughts about birthing God had come to fruition in writing
already, but not yet. Birthing my daughter was such an intense
experience. The pain and suffering was just unbelievable, I couldn’t
believe I survived! Remembering what scripture says about birthing
pains in God’s unfolding of the new life is a help when those pains
seem unbearable as well.

After the jump – an insightful excerpt from an upcoming book called Simple Obsession by mother of five Jamie Zumwalt. Thanks for sharing this, Jamie … it helped me get some new perspective on some “pressure” in my life.

From Jamie Zumwalt’s upcoming book Simple Obsession:
I grew up in a holiness denomination and then spent many years of my adult life pursuing together with a body of believers purity, righteousness and holiness. These I thought I clearly understood, however, many of us in that camp were completely lacking in the most basic of fruit that Scripture describes:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

In our attempt to define and hold others to our understood standards of holiness and purity of doctrine, I am ashamed to say that we, in the holiness camp, have often been guilty of meanness instead of kindness; hatred instead of love; strife instead of peace; harshness instead of gentleness; cutting off of relationship with other believers instead of longsuffering; and even loss of control in expression of intense emotion instead of self-control.
Through some very painful conflicts and broken relationships, I experienced deep disillusionment with the form of Christianity that I had thus far experienced. Overwhelming thoughts of “It just doesn’t work” filled me with despair. Everything that I thought Christianity had promised to me (power to live a moral life and to live in loving relationships) had failed. Despite my despair, I could not entirely throw Jesus out with the bath water. I had experienced Him. I knew He was real.
… We must examine the fruit being produced by our internal attitudes, and if we find that we see and smell little or nothing of the character of Jesus, our bridegroom, then we must return to intimate fellowship with him. There, he can begin to transform our nature and begin to produce the fruit of true righteousness and holiness—that of the fruit of the Spirit.
Birthing Fruit
When a woman is birthing a baby, it hurts. I can tell you from experience five times over. I’m going to use this illustration of birth to help you understand how God produces fruit of character in us. I will try not to be too graphic for you guys, but I’ve got to use what I know. Consider it a science lesson.
When the time comes for a baby to be born, the mother begins experiencing pains. These pains are called contractions for a very good reason, because that is exactly what is going on. The great big muscle called a uterus is contracting, just like your biceps do when you lift weights. The reason that it is contracting is to widen the opening called the cervix at the bottom of the womb. The cervix has to open in order for the baby to pass through. And these contractions hurt.
Now, what is our normal response to pain? We don’t like it. When something hurts us, we resist it. In labor, women often fight the pain of contractions by tensing up their muscles. This is the opposite of what we need to do, because it prevents the uterus muscle from doing what it needs to do. In order for it to contract like it should, we need to relax and go with the process. Often when we resist the pain, it lengthens the labor and ultimately makes it more painful.
Okay, enough of the science lesson. What is my point? Look at Romans 5:

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.

What is it that produces character in us? It’s tribulations. It’s painful circumstances and experiences. The Greek definition of that word, “tribulation,” actually means “pressure.” Just like a grape has to be squeezed in order to produce wine, we must experience tribulations in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit.
When a physical baby is ready to be born, there really is not anything you can do to prevent it. It is going to come. However, when God is trying to birth the fruit of good character in us, we can abort the baby, so to speak. It is not automatically produced. Sometimes we abort it by running away from the people or circumstances that are producing the pressure in our lives. We quit jobs that are unpleasant. We take ourselves out of painful relationships. We leave churches that we don’t like.
If we don’t physically leave, then sometimes we just emotionally check out. We avoid certain topics. We distance ourselves. We put up those walls. And when we do these things, the fruit that God is trying to birth in our character is not produced. We remain the same, looking like our old selves, rather than looking like Jesus.
Just as in physical labor, we must surrender to the contractions. We must relax and submit to the Holy Spirit and his work in our lives. If we fight with him, it only produces more pain for us. Madame Guyon wrote of this pain:

All of our troubles spring from our resistance; and our resistance comes from our attachment to things. The more you torment yourself over your suffering, the sharper that suffering becomes. But if you surrender yourself to the suffering, more each time, and you allow the crucifying process to go on undisturbed, the suffering is used more effectively.

If we will allow him to work through the difficult circumstances of our lives, we will no longer “be conformed to this world, but we will be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Every one of my physical labors has been characterized by a raging battle in my mind. The very first contraction brings a flood of fear, as I begin to think about how much more painful it will become and how long it will last. Fear can overwhelm you, if you don’t take your thoughts captive.
I have delivered my babies at home with a midwife. I have a group of girlfriends who come to help me during labor, and one of their primary jobs—besides giving me drinks, reminding me to breathe and rubbing my back—is to help me take these fearful thoughts captive. We have created a “rule” for labor: they never allow me to say, “I can’t do it.” Instead, every time I feel fearful and think I can’t go on, I must say, “Jesus, help me.” Instantly, I remember who is my source.
Spiritual birth is the same for us. Sometimes we begin to meditate on the pain of the sacrifices that God is asking of us. We begin to resent the trials that he has allowed to press us. We start thinking about how long we are going to have to endure this tribulation, and we begin to fear that we are incapable of fulfilling the call that God has given to us.
In difficult times of spiritual birth, we must not isolate ourselves or withdraw from fellowship with other believers. Just as in physical labor, in humility, we must allow others around us to help us. They are “midwives,” so to speak—good leaders, wiser, older in Jesus. Perhaps they have delivered lots of “babies” in their own lives. We can trust their counsel and guidance.
Then we must choose to surrender to the “contractions” and breathe. We focus only on the present, not meditating on how much is yet before us. We must take our fearful thoughts captive, choosing faith instead. We cry out, “Jesus, help me.” Resisting the thoughts that we cannot do it, we must remember that we can do all things through Christ, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”