“From labour pangs to joy”
A month ago, Kelly asked me to share with CAN who God is to me, especially in this new season of childbirth and childcare in my family. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to speak today. I gave birth to my first child, Emika, on August 7 last year. She turns 7 months old today. The birth of Emika represents a dramatic change in my life, and today, I would like to talk about what I have been thinking about recently in light of her birth.
The Bible passage I am reflecting on is John 16:20-22.
20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. 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. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
There are several places in the Bible that describe the world’s suffering as “labour pains” or “birth pains”. When I heard the phrase “labour pains” before, my mind didn’t really take notice of it. Perhaps I thought it was “pain as painful as childbirth, so much suffering,” without really understanding this. However, last year, I experienced a real childbirth, and now I can imagine this analogy more realistically. Jesus told this analogy to his disciples before he died on the cross. He said that the sadness of the disciples caused by his death is like “the pains of childbirth.” However, he said that the sadness would be completely forgotten after his resurrection, and that the hearts of the disciples meeting Christ again would be filled with great joy.
Paul also stated in his letter to the Romans that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” He says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now“, and after that suffering, it would “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. And he says that “we ourselves also groan inwardly as we wait eagerly…for
the redemption our bodies.”
The Bible seems to be saying that the various sufferings we experience on earth are inextricably linked to the joy that will appear later, and that suffering is not just suffering, but that it leads to life. It teaches us what the “birth pains” are for. This gives us great comfort and strength when we experience difficulties.
I was suffering from various illnesses during my pregnancy: morning sickness, vertigo, acid reflux and esophagitis, severe tooth pain, endless coughing, emotional ups and downs caused by hormonal imbalances, etc. However, I knew clearly that this was pain related to giving birth to the precious baby in my stomach, so I never felt hopeless, even though it was painful. But if this had been an unexplained illness, would I have felt the same? Perhaps I would have felt hopeless. Knowing that this suffering would lead to the “hope of the birth of a new life” helped me to overcome it. In fact, the baby in my belly was well protected by God’s hand.
As the due date approached, I began to feel joy that I would see my baby soon, but also anxiety about the unknown experience of childbirth. Nevertheless, the day was bound to come. In the end, it took about a day and a half from the onset of labour to the birth of Emika. It was an unimaginable pain. However, only seven months ago, as Jesus said in his analogy, the moment Emika was born, I completely forgot about the intense pain I was suffering. The day after giving birth, a nurse looked at me as I was leaving the hospital with my newborn Emika in her child seat and said, “Did you really just give birth yesterday? You seem so energetic and awake!” Sure, my body was tattered, but the pain of giving birth had passed and I finally saw my beloved child’s face. And my heart was full of joy.
This experience made me realize that the suffering of birth is unavoidable, but we are waiting for immeasurable joy beyond that suffering. It reminded me of the perspective of the kingdom of heaven as we think about the various sufferings that occur in our lives. For me, this year was a happy one given the birth of Emika, but on the other hand, it was also a year of many sad events around me. When I see the conditions in front of me getting worse, I wonder, why does God continue to allow such suffering? I can’t help thinking like this. In this world, there are various hardships such as physical illness, mental illness, accidents, disasters, and plagues. And while on this earth, we are influenced by all this, whether we are Christians or not. Of course, those who believe in Jesus have already been given eternal life, and I am confident that the Lord will ultimately turn everything into good. However, how should we continue to trust God on the way to that point, and where should my prayers look for hope when reality seems difficult? There are times when I feel conflicted about this.
However, just as Jesus’ analogy of the suffering of childbirth implies that a baby cannot be born without labour, the Bible promises that the “slight, momentary” suffering of this world is “preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” For Christians, it has given me the vision that suffering is not always random and meaningless, but a sure-fire path to great joy.
I imagined the joy of having a baby many times during pregnancy, but I couldn’t know the magnitude of that joy until the moment I actually held Emika in my chest. Similarly, the glory that will appear later, the perfection of the kingdom, and the joy of resurrection and meeting Christ cannot be fully enjoyed at this time. However, while we wait for these things, Jesus is leading us to a path filled with great joy while passing through the suffering of birth. That image has changed my prayer life. We tend to pray for improvement in immediate difficult situations, but more than that, God is now trying to produce something from the suffering of birth that will bring eternal glory to Him. I think I am now being taught to focus on that and pray with hope.
Finally, I am still in awe of how supportive the CAN community has been during my experience of this new season of life: pregnancy, childbirth and childcare. Countless encouragements, prayers, postpartum meal deliveries, loving gifts, and each and every act of love overwhelmed us with the love of the community. Despite the fact that we could hardly get together this year due to COVID, I’ve never felt closer to and more alive in this community than this year. And I’m really looking forward to seeing Emika join this congregation and grow in the fellowship of the community.
Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for your promise that the suffering and joy of birth are inseparably linked, and that the joy God has in store for us is incomparably greater than the suffering of the world. Jesus first gave birth to eternal life in us through the suffering of his birth. Let us always remember that. And please help our hearts to wait in hope for a new life as this community experiences the suffering of birth. I thank the Lord for always being with us and guiding us.