“No one understands me.”
It’s a phrase nearly all of us have uttered or thought at one time or another. Perhaps we shouted it in our teenage years as we grappled with hormones and schoolwork and parents who just didn’t get it. Or maybe we exclaimed it as students, when we received a grade lower than we thought we’d earned on an essay. It could even be in our adulthood, in seasons where we’ve felt just so other that we saw ourselves marooned on an island, misunderstood, marginalized, maligned, unsure why we couldn’t ever quite fit in.
Feeling alone is . . . lonely.
Six years ago, heavily pregnant with our firstborn, I’d said no epidural, written it into my birth plan like a gladiator headed into battle. Clearly, I shouldn’t have been trusted with such a weighty decision when I’d never experienced labor before. My crunchy-granola birthing books had called contractions “pressure waves” — more like tsunamis of torment.
In the throes of labor transition, that point between seven and ten centimeters where the physical intensity of labor can quickly become overwhelming, I began thrashing around the birthing suite, desperate for relief. A tiny little nurse approached, kindly but timidly offering suggestions to help me cope with the pain.
“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!” I told her in no uncertain terms. No one in the room understood the agony that gripped my belly as contractions threatened to rip me apart. The nurse had made the mistake of telling me earlier — back when I was only a few centimeters dilated and still in a joking mood — she’d never had a baby. “I’ve helped deliver quite a few of them though!” she’d chirped. “You’re in good hands!”
I now doubted that very much. She’d never walked this road with her own two feet — how could she possibly be any help?
My husband rubbed my back, our doula offered me sips of water, another nurse bustled around checking the baby’s heartbeat. Each offered their own encouragements for how I could make it to the other side of the fear, the pain, the struggle. None of them had birthed a baby, and I found myself utterly unable to trust their advice. How dare they even offer it when they hadn’t felt what I was feeling — that my very body was about to be split in two? That I would probably die?
“YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING!” I yelled at the husband, the doula, the second nurse. “I AM ALL ALONE!” I shouted. “ALL ALONE AND NO ONE IS HELPING ME!”
My husband later shared that he and the nurses and the doula shared a smile amidst my shouts, their eyes meeting over my angry back, arching with the ongoing agony. “Everyone in that room was there to help you,” he said. “You just wouldn’t let us.”
Just then our midwife, Kate, arrived on the scene, wiping sleep from her eyes. She took one look at my animalistic thrashing, locked eyes with me, and said, “Courtney, get up on the hospital bed now. It’s time to push.”
It took me a moment to recognize her, the haze of labor like a veil, shrouding everything in mystery and uncertainty, but once I did, I obeyed instantly. In the months we had spent getting to know one another, she had told me about birthing three ten pound babies without any medication. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. If Kate could do it, so could I. She knew my pain. She’d lived it.
As Christmas draws ever closer, I find myself drawn again and again not to the traditional birth narrative — Jesus in the manger, shepherds in the fields, angels in the sky — but to John’s account of the incarnation:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
John 1:14a (NIV)
This is radical and mysterious, sacred and almost sacreligious. God became human. Like you are. Like I am. Jesus entered into the physical world as a baby with bones and skin and hair and — after four or five months — teeth. In Jesus, God felt hunger and thirst, anger and sadness, euphoria and joy. In Jesus, God laughed, God ached, God suffered, God died.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that this same God is not “unable to empathize with our weaknesses,” that He was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (4:15a, NIV). Advent is a season of waiting and longing not just for the baby who was born but for the God who came down, entering into our fears and worries, our temptations and weaknesses, our very bodies, to show us the way home.
Like a midwife who’s birthed her own babies, like a mountain guide who’s summited countless times before, like a master craftsman who lets us apprentice at his workbench, God has already walked the road before us, and He will walk it with us today anew.
Advent reminds us that the same God who loved us enough to take on flesh will come again. Let us wait with expectation and hopeful longing, knowing that we are fully known, fully loved, and fully understood by the gracious God who walked the road before us and will come one day to bring us home.
Alleluia. Come, thou long expected Jesus.
Advent reminds us that the same God who loved us enough to take on flesh will come again. -@courtneyellis: Click To Tweet