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How Birth Teaches Us to Boast

A Flashing Sign

While self-awareness is a natural side effect of maturity, God-awareness is a supernatural gift of grace.

I was watching my kids take swimming lessons at the pool one afternoon when a toddler drifted by seated in a floating device and wearing a life vest. He beamed, “I swimming!” Of course, everyone in earshot melted into a puddle, and we said in chorus, “Wow! Well done!” We’re inspired as we watch our children grow up through their risk-taking. We smile when they try to learn skills and encourage them: “Go on, you can do it.”

Childbearing is similar to “swimming” in a life vest and floatation device. (I realize swimming might sound really lovely right now to readers who are heavily pregnant!) While we imagine ourselves to be racing against other moms in the 400-meter individual medley in the Mom Olympics, in reality we’re all afloat solely because of the grace of God. If we have eyes to see, then we know how we’re all carrying on in our mothering work—by grace.

Labor with Hope

Gloria Furman

In 25 short meditations, Furman helps women see labor and birth in the framework of the larger biblical narrative, infusing cosmic meaning into their personal experience and directing their focus off of themselves and onto Christ.

If we’re all afloat and empowered and sustained by grace, why do we moms boast in ourselves? Why do we assure ourselves and others with deeply believed mantras like, “You’ve got this”? Whatever the this is that we have, it’s been given to us. In keeping with the swimming analogy, I think we prefer to ignore the life vest and the pool floatie so that we can boast in ourselves. At least, that’s the case for my own heart. It is easier for me to boast in myself if I ignore the fact that everything I have is a gift.

Thankfully, God has given us childbirth to serve as a flashing, neon sign to point us to him. God is our life. He deserves the thanks and praise for everything. He is the source of it all. In other words, when we think about Jesus, we don’t start with ourselves and our childbirth and conclude, “Jesus is like me.” We see ourselves in comparison to God, not the other way around. We read the metaphorical language of birth in God’s Word, and it takes our breath away when we realize that we are made to be like God. With mouths agape and hearts pounding, we wonder with the psalmist, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:4).

The shining glory and grace of Jesus is the substantive reality of the universe. Expectant mothers—biological, adoptive, and spiritual moms included—are living pictures of the glory of Jesus. Scripture teaches us how to see childbirth as a reflection of the radiance of Jesus—we see as in a mirror dimly. In his inscrutable wisdom God designed conception, pregnancy, and birth to be a sign to direct our hearts to worship him, and this is not egomania—it’s the height of love. From the surging luteinizing hormone to the growing baby, from the daily battle against anxiety to the thrills of hope, from the stretching skin and fluid retention to the rhythmic pain and crowning of newborn life—everything is from him and through him and to him.

But the world, in typical form, has so twisted birth that when we glimpse the wonder of it all, we dislocate worship from God back to ourselves! It’s a battle to stop boasting in ourselves. Every day you pull your growing body out of bed, the world launches still more initiatives to keep you boasting in yourself, your opinions, your training, your resources, your biology, your consumer choices, and even your pain tolerance. The world around us expects moms to use these things like weapons to fight their way to the top and claim the glory we work so hard to achieve.

Can you feel the gravity of the course of this world, too? It pulls my gaze away from the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and fixes it squarely on my own navel. Navel-gazing while boasting in ourselves is simply the wrong vocation for women made in God’s image. Weak as a puffy cloud floating overhead, the feeling of satisfaction is gone before we know it, and then we’re reaching for our next glory fix.

The Best and Only Boast

But! When we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, then we are transformed. The satisfaction, fullness, approval, and purpose we seek are realized only in Christ. When we boast in the cross—where the perfect Son of God bled and died in our place—we see him and ourselves and the world around us rightly.

Thankfully, God has given us childbirth to serve as a flashing, neon sign to point us to him.

For those of us who have been in Christ and discipled in his church, these things I’ve written may sound like a broken record. But they bear repeating because we are forgetful and weak people. Do you have eyes to behold the glory of the Lord today? Let the Bible give your heart the perspective it needs to see clearly. Movies, advertisements, and newsfeeds will not remind you that life and death are in God’s hands. Feed yourself with God’s Word every day to be reminded that “the Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6). Fertility, conception, pregnancy, and birth are mercies from God—we haven’t earned them or achieved them. What do we have that we did not receive from God? So how can we boast in such things?

When you’re strongly tempted to boast in some aspect of your motherhood, ask yourself, “What do you have that you did not receive? Why then are you boasting?” And then remember the cost Jesus paid to give you everything you need for life and godliness. The childbirth he is giving to you or the child he has appointed for you to adopt are not about you or your glory. The best and only boast is the cross of Jesus. The cross is no shadowy, passing joy—like getting a compliment from someone or achieving a goal. It is through the shed blood of Jesus that we have eternal redemption and irrevocable forgiveness of sins. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1). Because of the cross we receive the lavish riches of God’s grace upon grace that he loves to pour out on his daughters.

This article is adapted from Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood By Gloria Furman with Jesse Schuemann.

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