Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pain in Childbirth; Cursed Ground; and Blessed Redemption

This is a good moment to add in my "disclaimer" note: 
       All stories told in this blog are 100% true. Sometimes names are changed to protect the guilty. I always say the following regarding my writing: "Why make stuff up when what actually happens is typically ten times as interesting, far more controversial, and exponentially funnier? Stuff happens. My gift is paying attention, not making things up." 

That said, there's a great anecdote my wife (the preacher) shared in church a couple of Sundays ago. It's a better story now than it was when it happened, because the category of "Dumb stuff said by stupid (and/or) ignorant people" tends to become easier to tolerate in retrospect than it is at the time.

Back at Columbia Seminary, when Rebekah was working on her MDiv, providence took over our carefully thought-out parenting plan and we ended up expecting our first child her senior year. This made everything more interesting, including the interview process for that critical "first call."

Our wonderful new arrival (Andrew) was due on graduation day, so Rebekah's final few months were "great with child." This led to some interesting moments.
  • The seminary president asking her not to look for a call - "You'll never get hired and you would embarrass the institution."
  • The search committee (PNC) who wanted to know if she was married.
  • The PNC who asked "What are you going to do with that baby?" (The answer, "What is any preacher going to do with his or her baby?")
  • Asking to be excused half-way through one of the ordination exams because she went into labor (the proctor had to call denominational headquarters because - so far as anyone knew - this situation had never come up before).
The signature story for today's post is a conversation my wife had with another student. They were talking about Greek, or theology, or some church history class - something or other - when he suddenly blurted out, "You're going to have this baby 'Natural Childbirth', right?"

"Derek and I have been taking Lamaze classes," she said. Then, "But I'm not a big fan of pain! We're going for the epidural the moment it gets to be too much."

That's when he dropped his bombshell. "But that's against the Bible," he said. "Women are supposed to experience pain because of their sin. After the fall God said I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you' (Genesis 3:16). You can't go against God's Word!"

Rebekah had a couple of options. But this is where she always manages to shine; it's one of the reasons her ministry has been so effective even when there's opposition or stupidity in the air. She maintained her cool, smiled warmly, and simply turned it around.

"I'll tell you what," she laughed. "Let's see you break your back scraping a living out of the dirt, and how about giving up your air-conditioning so we can all witness the sweat of your brow (Genesis 3:17-19, full text below). Then we can talk about child-birth without medication!"

The student reeled, started to wave his hands, and opened his mouth to say something. But could only manage to chew air.

"I don't know about you," she continued, pressing her advantage (not so much her advantage as the advantage afforded by the work of GRACE), "but I am so thankful for redemption. God sent Jesus so that our relationship with God can be restored and we don't have to live in darkness any more."

I, as the Preacher's Husband, am grateful for the continued victory of light over darkness. It's a story I see repeated in some way every day. We can either live as children of the light... or we can crawl back under the rock because we are afraid of what redemption requires of us.

It's time every Christian allowed God to loose those chains. 

"Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


The complete passage from Genesis:

Cursed is the ground because of you; 
   through painful toil you will eat food from it 
   all the days of your life. 
 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, 
   and you will eat the plants of the field. 
 By the sweat of your brow 
   you will eat your food 
until you return to the ground, 
   since from it you were taken; 
for dust you are 
   and to dust you will return