She asks me, how do you know anything? How are you so sure? How do you do this?
Oh, I know that gesture, the palm flung wide in a circle with disbelief and frustration and sadness and wonder and hope and pain, encompassing this, all of this human experience. How do you know what you know? How do you know anything?
We’re talking while my hands are steadily knitting a bulky sweater for my husband. (Listening quiet is the best way I know to love a soul these days.)
You know, much of the pain in childbirth is related to our own fear and resistance. Dr. Sears called it the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle because we’re afraid so we hold back and tense up so there is more pain so there is more fear and on it goes, around and around. So to interrupt the cycle, we need to surrender to the process, to lean into the pain. It seems counter-intuitive, we should run from pain, right? But believe it: leaning into the pain makes giving birth easier.
For my own experiences, it took everything in me to focus and release the tension, to reject fear, to open myself up to what my body was doing. But when I did, I experienced the marked difference in the hard work of birthing a new life. Five babies have been born into my own hands, two were too soon and there are only three tinies with me now, and I have learned to lean into the pain. Feel it. To let it be there, part of me, without fear, without tension, without refusal, acceptance because it is part of the struggle.
And then the pain gives way to a blessed release.
Her words are so familiar, my tongue knows them. Ten years ago, I was there, my firm foundation now shifting sands under my feet.
It started with the small questions, easy ones to stuff into the closet and ignore. I could drown them out if I quoted enough Bible verses, if I went to enough church services, if I got busy “doing hard things for Jesus.” But my questions and doubts had a habit of poking out the straining door, gathering friends, growing and intensifying as steadily as if my resolute denial of their existence fed and watered them.
Do you remember in the days of Saturday morning cartoons, when the bedroom closet was bulging with toys from a last-minute stuffing in by the kids, and then the poor Mama opened the door? and it all fell, pell-mell, tumble-bumble, onto her head, CRASH? Yes. Yes. Me, too. And it happened.
I know nothing for sure. Is God even real? What about my Bible? church? people? life? meaning? loss? grief? disillusionment? soul-weariness? goodness? evil? tragedy? suffering? I know nothing, nothing, nothing. And it’s not because I didn’t have “answers,” oh, no, I had all of the photocopied apologetics cheat sheets lined up in a neatly labeled three-ring binder, paragraphs highlighted to respond to the questions of the ages in three lines or less. I clung tighter and tighter, the sand of answers spilling out of clenched fists like rain.
Ten years later and I marvel. I marvel because God was there and He was enough. I marvel because this is not what I would have imagined for my life but it’s so much better and I marvel because I hold almost all of it loosely in my hand now, all of it but this: the nature and character of God is love love lovelovelovelovelove. Everything was resurrected on that and, for me, faith is less of a brick edifice of Belief and Doctrine and Answers now than it is a wide open sky ringed with pine trees black against a cold sunset. Welcome, let’s talk, let’s be together, beloved, breathe deep of the fresh air out here, you are loved loved loved.
It’s tempting to make a Rule out of my experience. Because God worked this way for me, then surely he must work this way for you and you and you. But no. Just as every woman knows her experience in birth is her experience, hers alone, only she knows the intricacies, unduplicated, a birth is unique.
And so no.
I can resist the temptation to say to her: this is how you do it. This is what I know, what you need to know, the boundaries for it all, stay in this pen, please. Read this. Don’t read that. Don’t do this but try to do that. A new law.
Instead, I say only this while I knit: Lean into it.
Lean into the pain. Stay there in the questions, in the doubts, in the wonderings and loneliness, the tension of now-and-not-yet until you are satisfied that God is there, too. You will not find your answers by ignoring, by living a life of intellectual or spiritual dishonesty. Your fear will try to hold you back, your tension will increase, the pain will become intense and it will be tempting to keep clinging tight. So be gentle with yourself. Be gentle. Lean in. Stay there. And then the release will come.
But I’ll tell you my story, how I found God in the wonderings and learned to live loved, live free. This is something to pray about together, I’ll carry you in my heart. I am listening, keep talking. Stay as long as you like, I’m in no rush, hurry kills a soul that questions.
Lean into it. God is enough, God is there, too.