Thursday, June 30, 2011

Succeeding on Schedule

Old Clockphoto © 2010 William Warby | more info (via: Wylio)
Do you ever feel like you're racing the clock to achieve something in life? Marriage, children, tenure, educational degrees, buying a house, or paying off student loans: These are all things I think many of us think need to be "checked off" the list by a certain age. 

To be honest, I felt like I was making good progress ticking things off my list: I had a job doing something I was passionate about right out of college; we got married in our mid-20s; Josh and I were paying off his student loans; we decided to pursue his doctorate degree. We were moving in the "right direction." But then, about a year ago, everything started to move in (what felt like) the wrong direction. For a few months, we were both jobless. Not only did we have to dip into emergency savings to live, but we started accumulating more student loans for Josh's grad school. I starting freelancing to pay the bills, putting my own career goals on hold.

I don't know about most of you, but when I hear the word ageism I think first of discrimination against the elderly. There is no doubt in my mind that care of the aging is one of the greatest weaknesses in modern American culture. But recently, I've realized that I've been ageist toward myself, applying the standard of age to judge how far I've come or how many years I have left to contribute to Kingdom work, my 401k, and my family.

At my amazing church's 55th birthday celebration in November 2010, our pastor, Jim Miller, preached a great sermon on Jacob's adoption of Joseph's sons in Genesis 48. In it, he reminds us that retirement is not a biblical doctrine. In talking to the elderly people in the audience, he challenged them to remember that their greatest contributions and experiences in life could still be awaiting them. 

Jim gave the example of Peter Drucker. Jim said that he visited a library where Drucker's books are lined up chronologically, with Drucker's first books on the far left and his newest books on the far right. Apparently, if you put your finger on the shelf representing the break between the books Drucker wrote before age 65 and after age 65, two-thirds of his books would be to the right of your finger. That means that he only produced one-third of his written works before the age of 65. Moreover, his most defining and influential books were written after the age of 65.

Jim's intention was to encourage the older people in our congregation with that fact. But surprisingly, when I heard those stats, I felt convicted. 

I feel as if I need to figure out how I'm going to contribute to the world and do it soon. (I think a lot of this is driven by the fact that my parents had two kids and a stable income by the time they were 26. In fact, I think they bought their first house at 26.) I see a ticking clock and I think, "Okay, I only have about 40 good years of work in me. I need to figure out what I'm doing soon so that I don't spend 10 of those years doing something wasteful."

But there is so much flawed thinking at work in this.

To begin, perhaps my greatest contribution to the world has already come and gone; perhaps I discipled a student who will go on to be the next Billy Graham, Gary Haugen, or Beth Moore. If that is true and my greatest contribution is over, then I am forced into admitting that I am not the best or final arbiter of why I'm here; because I certainly feel as if I've done very little. But in God's Kingdom, I don't even know how much I've done or not done. And I might not even know the fruit of my past labor until That Day.

Moreover, I am working under the assumption that I have about 80 years of life to work with. I see my clock ticking and I want to make the most with the next 54 years that I have. But, only God knows the length of my days. I could live to be 110 or I could die tomorrow. The reality that I cannot plan the future continues to be a hard lesson to learn.

So here, today, I am repenting of my self-centered, flesh-driven attempts to succeed on schedule. Lord Jesus, help me simply follow You one step at a time. Give me this day my daily bread and save the rest for later. I trust You with it all.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Birth Worth Celebrating

I've blogged a lot on pregnancy and birth lately. And today I am grateful for them both in a very non-theoretical way: Today is my husband's birthday. He is proof that God does amazing things. I acknowledge his birth here on this blog for a few reasons:

1) Even though he doesn't have to, he allows me to write about the details of his life/struggles/sin. He's a champ for putting up with me saying, "Um, can I write about you in this post?" And he's a champ for putting up with some rude comments aimed in his direction. (Be warned: I am less of a champ about that.)

2) He has helped me know how to follow Jesus more than any other single person in my life. And he hasn't done this by telling me how, but by showing me through his strength, courage, and childlike-awesomeness. He calls me out on my crap, encourages me when I am low, and is the most humble genius I know.

3) Because it's his birthday, I am spending the day with him. So long blog world!

Happy birthday to my favorite person in the world.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Idolatry of Education

Girls in classroom, Traveling Library at Public School © 2008 New York Public Library | more info (via: Wylio)
What is idolatry? Tim Keller says that idolatry is when "a good thing becomes an ultimate thing." I heartily agree, and now I'd like to address one particular idol many of us cling to: Education.

I applaud the efforts of education enthusiasts. I am, like most of us, saddened by the state of education in our country, and I believe we must act, as citizens of the Kingdom of God, to bring redemption to education. In all great social movements there is a vision and there is a strategy. And unfortunately, the vision for those who value education often reinforces idolatry in the hearts of children, immigrants, and other disenfranchised groups who are looking for something to place their trust and hope in. 

I read this article, How to Talk to Little Girls, today. While I agree with the premise that we should engage little girls in conversation about more than beauty, it left me feeling a little sad. Is the idol of education and intelligence all we have to offer in the place of the idol of beauty and materialism? Are we unintentionally teaching our little girls that their bodies do not determine their worth but their brains do? 

Education promises wealth, security, and respect. Education will help a little girl in life, but it will not save her. She will still be left with her brokenness. Believing that education will save our children is believing in and preaching a false freedom.

I know that many people are probably thinking, "No one's saying it will save them! Wow, way to dramatize the situation and jump to conclusions." I understand completely where you're coming from on this one. And I would agree if we weren't talking about children. It doesn't matter whether or not you intend to send this message to children; they will receive the message anyway. Children are wonderful observers and horrible interpreters. By the simple act of turning our conversations with little girls from things of beauty to things of the mind, we are communicating (even unintentionally) that her mind is now the most important part about her existence. And that message can become internalized and cemented at the age of 4. 

Perhaps I'm simply reacting to the fact I have idols of education and intelligence. I often catch myself thinking that I have to prove to the world that the educational investments that were poured into me were all worth it. I feel a pressure to prove my worth through intellectual success. And I want something better for my daughters and sons. I want them to excel academically, but I do not want them to believe that they are defined by their minds anymore than I want them to believe that they are defined by their looks.

Perhaps you missed this video last week of a "well-educated" woman revealing her deep pride and sin. I think it shows perfectly that idolatrous beliefs inhibit us from following God's most important statutes: 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-38, NIV, emphasis added)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sons vs Daughters

Gender Reveal party cupcakesphoto © 2010 Kristin Ausk | more info (via: Wylio)A recent Gallup poll reveals that Americans would prefer having a son to having a daughter if they could only choose one. 40% of respondents would choose to have a son, 28% would choose a daughter, and 32% have no preference.

Even in biblical times, we can see the preference for sons. Sons gave mothers honor and financial stability. Sons gave fathers laborers and a continued family legacy. In biblical and historical records, it was normal for daughters to not even be recorded in family lineage. Think of the the family of Jacob as an example. Jacob had children with four women. This is how Wikipedia records his family:

Yep, that's right. Dinah doesn't even get an ordinal number. She just gets a 'D' for daughter. 

My gut is that Dinah was only included in the biblical record because she was an important part of Jacob's family's story (Gen 34). I have a feeling that there were some other daughters among those 12 brothers. I could definitely be wrong. But women only seem to be recorded in the biblical account if they are important to the story. (Anyone know of any legit scholarship on this? I am not doing the research so that this post does not turn into a time-suck.)

My own experience reveals that people do in fact want sons. But I've also observed something else: Not only do people want sons, but they want their oldest child to be a son. I don't share this desire. I come from a family of all girls, my mother comes from a family with the eldest being a girl, and my father comes from a family with the eldest being a girl. The Rogers Clan grew strong women, and I am so proud to be one of them. Even growing up, my best friends came from families with firstborn daughters. So, to be honest, I've never really understood why sons are more desirable as first borns. 

So, I'd love your feedback. What is the scoop? Why do people prefer sons? Do you?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Guest Blog Over At Rachel Held Evans

Are You in the "Real" Christian Camp?
My husband and I have lived in a combined total of 17 unique cities (3 outside of the U.S. or its territories).  And we're still quite young. Now that we are adults calling the shots, one of the most important aspects of settling into a new "home" is to find a Christian community. We look for this community in a church, because we believe in the accountability and humility required to be part of a church body. And we look for a church that will both be challenging to us and a place where we can serve.
Exactly a year ago we were driving across the country from Boston to suburban Southern California. Never having lived in California, we were excited about experiencing the newness together. But what we were not excited about was figuring out the landscape of denominations available to us. Why? Because whether or not we want to admit it, we are driven by the belief that there are two main camps of Christians out there...
Go here to read more and join the discussion.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm Not Over It

Funeral on Fridayphoto © 2006 John Beverley | more info (via: Wylio)Somedays I am sure that if I had not told anyone about my pregnancy I would literally think that it had all been a dream.  Fortunately, I have a husband and friends who can tell me that it was real. My memories of those few weeks are foggy. But by God's grace, I think I will always look back on this Spring as a time of growth in my faith, of knowing that what I believe is real and true. Why? Because the Bible affirms my grief. And because God voluntarily became acquainted with grief so that one day the heavens could open and swallow up death once and for all.

When I was grieving the death of my grandfather in college, something would trigger a memory of him and I would just start crying randomly. I remember crying one night at dinner with my boyfriend, and I apologized profusely to him for "not being over it yet." I had expected an "Oh, don't worry about it" in response. Instead, and very unexpectedly, he immediately rebuked me for apologizing. 

He said, "Don't you think that humans would be used to death by now if we were meant to experience it? I mean, everyone who has ever existed has died. For thousands of years, we have dealt with death. We can expect it. But, we're still not used to it, and that says something. It says that we weren't created to deal with death. And we shouldn't ever get used to it or get over it. Let it be upsetting."

Those were some of the most freeing words to me. Grief is harder when you fight it, just like fear or anger or love. When you let it hurt, you pay respect to the thing that has been lost. 

Tonight, it hurts. And I'm okay with that.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guest Post: A (Double) Surprise Pregnancy Story

Today I have a great guest post to share with you. After my post on The Sorrow of Conception, which mentioned the grief surprise pregnancies can cause, I received this post from a dear friend. Desiring to stay anonymous to the Google-able world, he still wanted to share his story. 

He has been married since 2005 to his high school sweetheart. Unbeknownst to family and friends (that was me!), his wife was already pregnant when they got married. He and his wife welcomed their first daughter in 2006 and their second daughter in 2007. Both were surprise pregnancies. And, to top it all off, my friend and his wife were both sophomores in college when they found out they were pregnant with their first daughter. He and his wife have since completed college, work full-time, and lead a youth ministry.

He has some great things to share. I hope you enjoy his story.

What were the fears you felt before having kids?

Where do I start? To say we were scared is a great understatement; we were terrified! Many thoughts raced through our minds, such as: How could we afford it? What would we have to sacrifice in order to care for this baby properly? Do we breast feed or use formula? What about insurance and medical cost, house or apartment, toys, diapers, routine schedule? These were the types of questions that relentlessly raced through our minds.

The biggest thing that stuck out though, above any other question, was this: What would our families think? It meant so much for us to please our families that we were in such despair over the fact that we had conceived against what we had been taught was wrong on so many levels. Obviously the marriage part was not an option at this point. (In our minds, neither was the baby.) We thought we could play it off being that Amanda was still so small and fit into her wedding dress. We planned to pretend that we had just gotten pregnant on the honeymoon! Were we ever foolish (this is what sinful thinking does). So that was our first fear: losing the support of our family.

Our second fear was very much financial. We counted the cost of our marriage way before I had even proposed and found that we had just enough to cover our needs. So now, two months before we were to wed, there was an extra body in the picture. How could we ever afford to get married, much less raise a baby?  We moved back home from Atlanta [where they were in college]. We bought a house, which was cheaper per month than renting in Atlanta. We knew that my wife would have to be out of work for quite some time to properly care for the baby, so we started saving every penny we could. We sacrificed family time with parents and grandparents because it meant traveling and spending gas. While we distanced ourselves physically from family, we were very much in touch. They planned grand and elaborate showers, giving us a plethora of supplies. The outpouring of support from our families totally suppressed the first fear, as well as helped alleviate our financial needs.

Our third fear was the fact that we were still so young ourselves. How could we, sophomores in college, even begin to generate the brain waves capable of caring for someone other than ourselves? We, as most new parents or soon-to-be parents are, were very self centered.  We very much enjoyed our free time and privacy. Now we had to divide time between husband, wife, and baby!

I will tell you though, as time drew closer to the birth, these fears took a brief hiatus and were supplanted by excitement. It was like waiting for Christmas; the anxiousness of awaiting the arrival of the perfect gift caved in on the fears of being unprepared or irresponsible or financially secure! But, after the baby was born and we settled back into life, our fears returned.

Finding out about our second baby was just as much of a surprise as the first. Although we were more established and meagerly financially stable, we cried again. “It seems like every time we get ahead, something comes and knocks us off” was the rhetoric we used quite a bit. Although many of the same fears resurrected with our second baby, this time there was a new fear: How could I love another child as much as I loved our first? In our oldest daughter’s 22 months of life she wrapped us around her pretty little fingers nearly every time she spoke. Her sweet little voice melted our hearts like a hot knife to butter. Again, the selfish thoughts of sharing my love, now that I had gotten use to sharing with someone other than my wife, was overtaking me. I prayed, fought, and wrestled with the thoughts of how, why again, etc.?  But once our second daughter arrived, she was a phenomenal baby. She hardly ever cried except to eat and be changed. This was a great change compared to the first go around.

Did those obstacles actually affect your kids or the quality of your parenting?

Laura, I had to chuckle a bit at this one. The answer is a twofold answer. To answer just yes or just no I would be doing an injustice to you. On one hand, yes, it sure did! The only thing we could focus on for a long time was how little we had: money, time, sleep/rest, etc. We treated our daughter as something that took up time, space, and energy (though we really loved her more than life itself). We had negative attitudes and were insecure about being parents, so we were uptight about anything that anyone said that trampled our efforts of parenting. We began to neglect seeing family and friends for fear of having the “parent police” inspect our every move. So again we feared the judgment others would direct toward us. We did, secretly, take others’ advice, but we never breathed it to them that they were being considered for their recommendations. Pride ate us up like a cancer. We wanted to prove to them that we could handle it when in reality we were sinking faster than the Titanic. Again, sinful thinking creates frustrated lives. Our life was filled with desperation, and when we finally asked for help or advice it was often too late.  As an example, our first daughter went through six major ear infections because we neglected to ask the right questions to family, friends, and our doctors. It seemed that we prayed constantly, but in a selfish manner: that God would heal our child, but for our benefit of rest and financial recoup.

I can’t say for certain that our fears positively affected our children or our parenting. I’d like to think that our parenting is improved because we have now learned that the only sure thing is that we are nowhere near perfect parents. Moreover, as hard as it is to swallow and say, we do not have perfect kids either. And that’s freeing.

Did you cling to any Scriptures during both surprise pregnancies and during parenting?
As funny as this may sound, we clung to the scripture of 1 Cor 10:13: “There hath no temptation take you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

In addition, one of my favorite verses is Rom 8:15-18: “For ye have not received a spirit of bondage again to fear, but a spirit of adoption whereby we cry ABBA FATHER. For the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. And if children then heirs, and if heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

We have made mistakes, lashed out in anger, and caused fears and frustrations to overtake our marital relationship. We have climbed many hills and fought many battles, but when it was all said and done and the smoke had cleared, we stayed “nearer my Lord to thee” just as the old hymn says. God was our ONLY hope of survival, our ONLY hope of restoration, and our ONLY hope of proper parenting. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Feeling Like Myself, For Now

privacyphoto © 2009 Alan Cleaver | more info (via: Wylio)Hello world, I'm an introvert, otherwise called an "I". I don't write about my introversion very much, but I talk about it a lot because it deeply impacts my life. I've had dozens and dozens (maybe hundreds now?) of conversations about being an introvert. But beyond the topic of introversion and the conversations I've had, the past four years have been an amazing/horrible/confusing journey for me in learning how to come to terms with this aspect of my personality.

As a child, I was definitely an extrovert. But my transition from E to I was cemented when I entered full-time, life-on-life ministry after graduating college. Long story short, after three years of full-time ministry, I was completely and utterly spent. In fact, it didn't even take three years: by the spring of year two, I was probably experiencing minor depression. I could explain how it happened, but it's pretty boring and tedious. But a lot of the story has to do with my introversion refusing to see eye to eye with my ministry desires.

Since I left full-time ministry and moved cross-country (my husband started a graduate program), I have felt myself come alive in amazing ways. I want to see people again. I want to see them in small-group settings, have a calm conversation, and know a few of them deeply already. But still, I want to see them.

I didn't expect to feel this way during the first year in a new place. I expected to feel even more drained from the getting-to-know-you experience essential after a move. So, why am I feeling better? Honestly, I think it's because I work at home now. I can work quietly and productively without interruption. I can see people during the day if I want, or I can be a recluse for a whole week. It's lovely.

But I know life won't always be like this. So, are there any tips out there from introverts who don't have so much control over their relational lives? How do you practice self-care and sacrificial love at the same time? And yes, I have read Introverts in the Church and I follow Adam McHugh's blog. They have been and continue to be helpful. But now I'm asking YOU.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Questions for Our Generation

I stumbled across an article in RELEVANT magazine recently that I think deserves some attention. Dr. Ron Sider is a 70-something Christian author and thinker. He “released his seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, in 1977." He has written two dozen books since, “including Completely Pro-Life, which ushered in a new “holistic” thinking on what it means to affirm life in areas beyond abortion opposition, such as capital punishment, nuclear weapons and severe poverty.” In an open letter to our generation, he offers four questions to “young, radical evangelists” in regard to “how they approach justice, relativism, marriage and homosexuality.”

The questions are:
1) Are you in danger of neglecting evangelism in your passion for social justice?
2) Are you in danger of abandoning an affirmation of moral and intellectual truth?
3) Will you honor your marriage vows?
4) As you seek to respect the dignity of gay/lesbian people, have you wrestled carefully with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?

I think his wisdom for our generation merits our attention. To read his explanation as to why these questions are paramount for us, visit the online version of the article in the following links:

Seriously, check one (or all!) of those links out. If you are someone (like me) who considers yourself a "progressive, social justice Christian," his words will probably aid your faith walk. I recommend you mull over questions 2 and 4 specifically.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What is God's Will for Your Life? Great Question!

highwayphoto © 2010 Scot | more info (via: Wylio)
It seems one of the most pressing questions we have for God is, "What should I do?" I've asked God these types of questions a lot:

Do I date or break-up with this person?
Should I go to this school or that school?
Do I take this job or that job?
Should I invest in this friendship or that one?
Do we start a family now or wait?

After working in college ministry, I can attest to the fact that questions about discerning the will of God are some of the most frequent young people are asking. I've heard some amazing advice on this topic and I've heard some bad advice on this topic. In an attempt to reduce the overall anxiety levels of Christians-trying-to-make-decisions everywhere, here is some of the best advice I've heard:

1) Sometimes we are so concerned with figuring out God's specific will for our life that we neglect the commands and instructions God has already given us: love the Lord with all of yourself; love your neighbor as yourself; be abundant in good works; be slow to anger, etc. Perhaps God wants us to be faithful in the "small" things before He will give us more instructions. Why would He give us an impressive calling if we have failed at being kind and generous? Let's work on the basics of our faith before we ask for a promotion from God.

2) A lot of people imagine that God's will is like a tightrope: you have to find just the right path to walk in life or else you're "out of His will." But this is flawed thinking. In fact, God's will is like an interstate highway: there are lots of options we can choose. When driving on a highway, you do have to pick a lane. While you can switch lanes, your trip cannot be spent going back and forth across the highway.  Moreover, God has given us parameters in life (His moral and ethical laws) that are good for and protect all of us on the road, just like speed limits and other traffic codes. Also, it is true that God wants us to be going somewhere, not just being stationary during life. A stalled car on the interstate is bad news. He has designed us to work.

3) Sometimes when we ask God if we should choose option A or option B, it's like asking your mom if you can have an apple or an orange for a snack. Mom's going to say, "Either is fine with me. You don't have to ask to eat fruit." In our minds, we aren't able to see that choosing between two good things is left up to us by God. God would be a major micromanager if He didn't give us the ability to discern for ourselves. However, if we are choosing between options that are not good for us (potato chips or ice cream perhaps), neither is a good choice. Sometimes God's will is for us to abandon all of our plans. An absurd example: Asking God if He wants you to be a stripper or a drug dealer is not going to force Him into approving one of those bad options. He is not constrained to our silly little games of "this versus that." 

4) So, how do we know what are good options and bad options? First, we consult the Word of God. If something is out of line with Scriptural teaching and values, then it's probably not something we should consider. Second, we consult friends, family, and Godly individuals. If they are united in their opposition of something we want to do, we should seriously consider abandoning our plans. Of course, rarely are numerous people in agreement about things, so make sure to consult people who know you well and know God well. Third, we consider our giftings and skills. God probably isn't calling you to be a musician if you are tone deaf; He's also probably not calling you to be a pastor if you don't like studying the Scriptures.

5) Sometimes, God calls us to do crazy things that don't seem to make sense according to our giftings, skills, or passions. God did call Moses to lead his people, and Moses felt wildly unqualified. God built the church upon Peter's leadership, but Peter denied knowing Jesus. Neither of these men were qualified according to worldly standards, but God saw into their hearts and chose them anyway. However, when God asks us to do something crazy, He usually gives a partner or a team to support us. Moses had Aaron. Peter shared the Gospel with Jews, but Paul took the reigns of sharing the Gospel to the Gentiles. So, don't claim that God has given you a calling that seems counter to your giftings unless God also gives you a teammate or three.

So, does God want you to be a teacher, a doctor, or a missionary? Does he want you to marry or be single? Does He want you to have two children or eight? He very well might be fine with any of the above.

I say we stop over-spiritualizing the decision-making process. God has given us resources; let's use them!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wombs of Promise

baby kaiphoto © 2009 Jon Ovington | more info (via: Wylio)"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." Gen 3:15

In pronouncing the curse, before God speaks to Eve (and before she is even pregnant), God speaks of her offspring here in Gen 3:15. Many people, including myself, consider Gen 3:15 to be the first prophecy of the Messiah. God is not simply saying that Eve's children will be bitten on their heels by snakes, nor that her children will step on snakes. God is saying that Eve's seed as a singular thing (not plural) will win in a future power play against the serpent.

As I mentioned in Lies About Getting Pregnant and The Sorrow of Conception, God's words in Genesis 3 about Eve's future tell of the pain awaiting her, but they are also full of hope. In fact, the hope in 3:15 regarding Eve's offspring is the only positive statement in the entire curse.

As Eve's life went on, I'm sure she waited eagerly for one of her sons to destroy the serpent. But instead, her sons turned on each other. Her mind probably raced at night trying to figure out how any good could come of her family. Without seeing the defeat of the serpent, Eve died. But she left children, born of pain. And while they were not the offspring who would save the world, the promise left to Eve lived on. Throughout the generations, that promise lived on in Sarah, who, because she was advanced in age, laughed when God said she would have a baby. That promise lived on in Leah, who, though unwanted and unloved by her husband, bore the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel in her womb. That promise lived on in Tamar, who, after being widowed and discarded by her family, conceived in the most grievous and painful way.

And that promise finally came to fulfillment in the womb of Mary, an unwed, pregnant teenager. And after thousands of years of waiting, Jesus entered the world as humbly as could be; she gave birth to the Savior in a barn and placed Him in a feeding trough. Mary must have been so proud: All of the grief and pain of the hundreds of women in between Eve and herself was worth it! The Savior was coming into the world with their DNA and blood in His veins.

But Mary probably never have imagined that the man born to finally defeat the serpent would die before her very eyes. Can you imagine the confusion Mary felt as she watched her son die?  She was probably thinking through her tears, "But God, You said..."

In God's beautiful plan, Jesus, the answer to the promise first given in Genesis, could only truly defeat the serpent by taking the pain of the world onto Himself. On the cross, yes, Jesus bore our sins. But He also bore our pain and grief. On that cross, He experienced the weight of the world. In camaraderie with all women throughout history--those who have suffered infertility, cried over the blood of miscarriages, squirmed in anguish during labor--Jesus experienced the depths of pain.

God is not far from our pain. He is with us in it. And while we still experience deep pain and grief when bringing life into the world, every child born is a reminder that hope wins. Love wins. Grace wins. Joy wins. Life wins.

God's promises are good.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Sorrow of Conception

photo © 2008 Emily | more info (via: Wylio)
When encountering the hardships of life, I often think in terms of the larger idea of The Fall. But lately I've focused my thoughts specifically on The Curse, especially the first part of the curse to the woman:

"To the woman [God] said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children." Genesis 3:16a

It's not surprising that this has been on my mind. As I explained in Lies About Getting Pregnant, I'm pondering the significance of reproduction and its difficulties, of the fact that our very bodies are broken and bear the consequences of the fall. Upon reflection, some of the only teaching I've heard in church about pregnancy and childbirth has been when discussing the curse. And to be frank, most of the teaching I've heard has skimmed over this portion of the curse or made jokes about it. 

(Dear male pastors of America, please do not make jokes about living with PMS or the agony of watching your wife in childbirth when discussing this significant piece of Scripture. We women, we're usually more than half of your audience. And turning this deep teaching into something light and centered around the male perspective is not going to do much to actually minister to us.) 

The best teaching I've heard about this part of the curse has usually used it to explain the difficulty in the entire reproductive cycle, including PMS, menstruation, difficulty in conception, miscarriage, infertility, and the agony of childbirth itself. And I think this is accurate. But, other than briefly mentioning the significance of the word multiply, what I've never heard or read my entire life has been a deep exposition based on the actual words found in Genesis 3:16a. So, I want to share the beauty and horror of these words with you all. This might get a bit technical, so skip down a bit if you don't care about the why and want to get to my point.

To study it, let's break this sentence up into two parts. 

Part 1: I will surely multiply your pain* in childbearing. 

Part 2: In pain^ you shall bring forth children. 

Multiply: Upon examination, this seems to be an accurate translation of the word from the Hebrew. This tells us that there was pain already in God's perfect design. I'm comfortable with that because pain can be a good and necessary thing. For instance, I read recently that pain in childbirth could be God's way of forcing women to move while in labor, and movement aids labor and protects the baby. 

Pain*The word for pain in part 1 is 'itstsabown. 'Itstsabown is only found in the Bible three times: here, Gen 3:17 (as toil), and Gen 5:29 (as toil).  The word was derived from 'atsab, which is most commonly translated as "grieved" in our English Scriptures. "Toil" gives this word a dimension of work and frustration, and "grief" gives this word a dimension of emotional angst and sorrow. This is a much fuller picture than "pain" alone.

Childbearing: In the original Hebrew, this word is herown and is only found two other places in Scripture: Ruth 4:13 and Hosea 9:11. In both of those verses, herown clearly means conception specifically, not childbearing as a process, pregnancy, or labor and delivery. In fact, if you click through to those verses, you can see that other words are used for pregnancy and birth in those verses. Herown means conception. Herown also comes from a root word, harah, which is translated as conception 39/42 times.

Pain^The word for pain in part 2 is 'etseb. 'Etseb is only found six times in the Bible and usually refers to harsh manual labor associated with financial or material gain. It is also derived from 'atsab, just as pain* was. Pain^ seems to be very similar to pain*, but for some reason the author of Genesis chose to use two different Hebrew words. So, there is probably some difference in meaning we could glean. The only thing I can think of is that 'etseb is more clearly associated with actually gaining something, which is perhaps appropriate because of the meaning of "bring forth children," as we will now explore.

Bring forth children: In the Hebrew, this is one word: yalad. This word implies actual fruitfulness, not simply trying to be fruitful. It is often translated as "begat" in the KJV, and as "bore", "gave birth", and "became the father of" in modern translations. This is about giving birth, but also seems to involve the concept of actually multiplying yourself and becoming a parent. 

(Skippers, pick up here:) So, it seems Part 1 and Part 2 are communicating two distinct ideas. While they are, of course, related to each other, it turns out that God is not simply repeating Himself. From what I can tell, Part 1 is speaking specifically about conception. Part 2 is speaking about the process, including birth itself, of actually bearing children.

So, the Laura Ziesel translation of this verse would be a little clearer. It would go something like:

"To the woman [God] said, “I will surely multiply your grief and frustration when conceiving; in hard work, pain, and grief you will give birth and become a mother." 

So why is the text not translated more clearly? That's a great question and I don't have the answer. I did read many commentaries on this section, and the one thing that tickled me was the idea that surely God didn't mean that the woman would experience pain during conception because conception is clearly pleasurable. Ha. I laughed. There are lots of women who will tell you otherwise. Clearly there should be more women writing Bible commentaries and contributing to translations. Cause we can tell you how much sorrow, grief, and actual physical pain can be involved in creating life.

Hardship and grief during conception is normal now. Trying to Conceive (TTC) blogs, message boards, and support groups abound. It seems young women today do everything they can to avoid pregnancy only to grow up to realize that it isn't the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. We can be left feeling like deserts when we want to be fruitful gardens. Even if conception is achieved, a healthy pregnancy is not guaranteed. That sucks.

The flip side of the "grief when conceiving" coin tells the stories of millions of women who have conceived a child and been surprised. In that journey, too, there is grief and sorrow. Women who conceive before "the plan" permitted it find themselves grieving in many ways, and they are often frustrated with themselves because they know they should be happy. I haven't been on this road, so maybe I'll get a guest post up from someone who has. Anyone out there?

And then there's Part 2. I'll probably think more in depth about part 2 in the future (God willing). When I'm unable to sleep at night because of back pain, when I'm in the 27th hour of labor, when my nipples start bleeding from breastfeeding: then I'll think about part 2. But for now, can I just point out that the word multiply is in Part 1, not Part 2? I don't know if that differentiation holds up in the Hebrew, but perhaps it is worth considering what the implication might be. Maybe God gives us the fullness of L&D pain as a gift. It does, after all, produce all of those lovely endorphins we need to bond with baby upon arrival. But, I am super unsure of reading between the lines of the Gen 3:16 in that regard, so I'm not going to draw any conclusions at this time. But, suffice it to say, having children is painful, requiring hard work and many tears.

But, there is hope in the midst of all of this pain. And I'll get to that in my next post.
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