When You Need To Know God As A Midwife
Faith is not an epidural, but a midwifeBrene Brown
One of my favourite TV shows is Call the Midwife. It tells the story of a group of nuns and nurses who serve as midwives in the poverty-stricken community of Poplar, East London, during the 1950s and 60s. The families who feature in each episode are messy, loving, complex, courageous and often broken, just as families are in real life. But what really captures me is the relationship of trust between the midwives and the mothers in labour.
During their most vulnerable, painful and profound moments, the women of Poplar are not abandoned to cope on their own. The midwives show up again and again in all kinds of circumstances, bringing all their skill and experience to provide comfort and reassurance. They offer support and encouragement. They bear witness without shrinking away from the messy, emotional process of giving birth. They stay present for as long as they are needed.
Throughout the Bible, giving birth is frequently referred to as a sign of divine activity and purpose. Jesus, for example, explains to Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom of God it is necessary to experience a spiritual ‘rebirth’ (John 3:3–6). When the apostle Paul is trying to describe the state of the world, he writes that ‘the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth’ (Romans 8:22). And when God chose to invade the space time continuum and enter human history, he chose birth as his means of arrival.
There are seasons in our lives that mirror birth, too. There are painful, messy times that tear us open; times that are exhausting, where all we can do is groan and struggle as we push through; times where we reach the end of ourselves, feeling like we just can’t go on any more. In those moments, we cry out to God for some pain relief. We want an emotional epidural to numb us up until it’s all over.
But God, in her wisdom, mostly comes to us as a midwife (see Isaiah 66:9, Psalm 22:9). She stays with us in our vulnerability and discomfort. She helps us understand that staying alive to the pain and working with it is a necessary part of the journey to wholeness. She doesn’t distance herself from the mess and emotion. She comforts and encourages and believes in us, when we’re long past believing in ourselves. And when we reach the other side, God the midwife is still there with us, celebrating the new life that has been birthed.
It strikes me that if this is how God treats us, maybe it’s a good model for how we should treat each other. So often, our first response to someone’s suffering is to jump in with a trite cliché or a quick fix. Sometimes this comes from a genuine desire to alleviate their pain. But sometimes it’s because we’ve lost patience. Surely they should be over it by now? Sometimes it’s because carrying other people’s pain with them is hard work. We want to offer a solution because we can’t bear the weight of their suffering.
If we take our cues from God, though, we see that what people most need in their pain is someone to show up and be there. When we’re suffering we need empathy and reassurance that we’re safe, that we’re not alone. We need people who will take our emotions seriously. We need to know we’ve been heard, understood and validated. We need encouragement and company to make it through our darkest moments.
This is what God the midwife does for us. It’s not an easy answer or a simple solution. But being with us, accepting us and loving us as we are, without trying to fix us, is the most healing, loving thing God does for us. It’s the most healing, loving thing we can do for each other too.