Your birth was painless.
After treading the ravaging waters of pitocin induced labor for as long as my feeble body could bear, I mumbled out a request for an epidural and barely managed to stay afloat until the needle pierced the tender flesh in my back.
The relief was instantaneous.
I gulped in great lungfuls of air and rested comfortably for the first time in months.
And when I failed to push you out of my tightly cramped womb, when you became stuck in the birth canal and your heartbeat rapidly plummeted, when skilled and weathered hands drew you out of the depths via emergency forcep extraction, I sailed effortlessly through the waves with nary a drop of pain.
But that first night in the hospital was the most excruciating of my life. I hadn’t yet realized that I suffered a fourth-degree tear during delivery (don’t Google it – trust me), and even the highest allowed dosage of Class 1 narcotics (Lord bless them) left me literally moaning in agony.
Nobody told me that the greatest pain sometimes comes after birth.
“I wonder when I’ll see Jesus,” you murmured from the backseat. We were on an afternoon grocery run and, needless to say, your statement caught me off-guard.
“Well,” I replied, “Either we’ll see Him when we die or when He comes back for us. But only those who truly love and serve Him will ever get to see Him.”
“Oh,” you said and nodded slowly, gazing out the window. I could practically hear the wheels inside your head creaking as they slowly began to turn.
We’d talked often about what it means to follow Jesus, what it looks like to serve and honor Him on earth, but I had hesitated to ever push you further than your own will would take you. My greatest desire was that you not feel pressured into making a decision based on fear or my own hopeful expectations… but rather that the choice be made out of pure, unadulterated faith.
But something felt different today.
Lord, are you moving in her heart? I prayed silently. Holy Spirit, tell me what to do.
And as quickly as I’d asked, the answer was given: Speak.
I cleared my throat nervously.
“Hey, Laynie?” I began. “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could know, no matter what, that someday you would get to be with Jesus in Heaven? Forever?”
“Wow,” you breathed with a smile. “That would be really cool.”
This is it, I thought with joy. This is the day!
I went on to explain what you already knew, that a life lived for Jesus is marked by surrender, repentance, and sacrifice. That to love and serve Him on this earth means we turn from our sin, we receive His forgiveness, and we relinquish all our hopes and plans to His careful keeping.
I explained that we must die in order to be reborn.
And when I asked if you wanted to pray and ask Jesus to cleanse your heart and ransom your life, you said, “Yes! I want to do that right now!”
Oh, happy day.
So we bowed our heads in an Aldi parking lot, and as all of Heaven shouted in wonder and joy and gratitude, you asked our Jesus to make you His forever.
And I cried.
You stepped tentatively into the darkened sanctuary, uncertain what to expect at this, your first Maundy Thursday celebration. Before us sat a low table, a plate of crusty bread resting on one side, a platter crammed with individual servings of grape juice resting on the other.
Your daddy pressed both bread and juice into your palms as together we read from perhaps the most stunning monologue in all of history: “Take and eat; this is my body… This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins…”
And as I watched you tip the cup to your lips for the very first time, the perfect portrait of innocence and wonder flowing seamlessly with sin and wickedness, I cried once again.
For that juice dripping down your chin mirrored our most sacred struggle, the stark red trail of redemption coursing freely over all the curves of this wretched, sinful flesh.
His blood is holiness on our tongues, one sticky drop of its nectar enough to bring life and joy and Truth to mortal mouths predisposed to choke on death and sorrow and shame.
His broken body is our abundant life.
His death is our rebirth.
I rejoiced and wept humbly in the fact that, by the grace of God, I was privileged to witness that first symbolic drop of redemption touch your lips.
But as we made our way further along in our Maundy Thursday experience, I was reminded again of the pain that inevitably follows.
We held the coins that represented Christ’s betrayal… we sat among artificial trees and bushes, trying our best to imagine His anguish in the garden… we lifted a heavy iron mallet, felt the sharp sting of the nail’s point on our fingertips… and finally, we knelt at a life-size, rugged wooden cross.
And my mother’s heart ached as I remembered… Mary’s greatest anguish came long after the birth.
When we are reborn, we are bathed in Christ’s righteousness, a process by which God looks down upon our filth and, miraculously, sees Jesus’ holiness. We were born in the image of God, yes, but thanks to the wonder of justification, could it be said that we are reborn in the image of Christ?
And if Christ was scorned, shunned, mocked, and ultimately killed… can we expect to be treated any differently?
To know rebirth in Christ is not to know the guarantee of a happy and blessed life.
On the contrary, His Word tells us that we will be persecuted for His sake, that we will be hated and misunderstood by a world that groans and shudders in the knowledge that we carry the Light it so desperately desires.
Just as my greatest suffering did not descend upon me until hours after your birth, so your greatest suffering lies before you: minutes and days and hours and years after your beautiful rebirth.
This is the beginning of the struggle, dear one. And the struggle will not be easy.
We are strangers in a world laced with sin and shame, a world that is, if I may be so bold, following the pattern of your birth: pressed and trapped in the final agonizing throes of labor, desperate for resolution but rapidly losing its heartbeat as it cries out for delivery into the Life He destined from the very beginning.
We feel the labor pains with every pulse of our hearts, every second on this earth that promises peace and success and satisfaction, but ultimately leaves us on our knees, gasping out, There has to be more than this.
So hear me, my love.
Hear me when I say: He is the “more” we so desperately desire.
And He is worth every bit of suffering we could possibly endure for His sake.
Because if there is one thing I can promise you, it is this: you will suffer for His sake.
But just as a laboring mother must first wade through the depths of agony and uncertainty, so we also must struggle through the despair of a life lived in a world that is not our Home. And when that last labor pain ripples through our bodies, when that last ragged breath slips through our lips, we will find ourselves cradled in the arms that have loved and longed for us from the very beginning.
And as a new mama gazes in wonder as she welcomes her babe into the world, so He will gaze into our faces and whisper: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Birth is painful.
Rebirth is even more painful.
But every second is worth it when we stare into the eyes of the One for whom we struggled.
I love you every day,