“You think that was bad,” says the young man, “you have no idea the pain I endured. My mother was a drinker, and she kept drinking just about every day. It was day 73, no, wait, maybe day 74, when she took a bad fall. I think she was in a supermarket by the sound of things, and she landed right on her belly. I shook so hard I didn’t think it would ever stop. I was sore for days.”
“That is bad,” his petite companion replied. “Wow, I had no idea. I just remember feeling hungry all the time. And scared. My mother was poor, and my dad left her just after I was conceived, so food was in short supply. Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t make it to delivery. The nights were the worst. I could feel my mother sobbing. And then, then, there was that time – mid second trimester I’m going to say – when she came down with some kind of flu. At first I was just a bit tired, but once it got through to me, I … well, let’s just say I didn’t know what real hurt was until that.”
“Yep,” her friend commiserated. “I knnnooowww what you mean. But look, you had it made. Your mom went full term. Man, what I wouldn’t give to go back. I can still remember how safe and warm I felt most of the time, even when she was in the sauce. I didn’t ever want to leave. I mean, you couldn’t have pried me out, if it was up to me. But she delivered me almost six weeks early – all that alcohol I guess. If only I could get those weeks back....”
"Yeah, I guess I was one of the lucky ones. Those last few days were, well ..."
Strange, right? A conversation you’ll never hear. And it’s not just because we can’t remember what occurred while we were in utero. It’s because, in a real and significant way, it no longer matters to us. Where we are now is not just different than where we were; it is orders of magnitude different. It is so different that it is foolish to even try to compare, or to think about, or to, well, engage in conversations like the one imagined above.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course, what happens to a developing baby matters very much. The baby must be protected and nourished while in his mother’s womb. But not so that the baby has a good time or great memories. Pregnancy is simply a part of the journey that we must all experience to achieve that next level of development – the one that really matters. If a fetus could talk to you, he would probably tell you to leave him alone. He’s got everything he needs, and trying to entice him with promises of fabulous sunsets, romantic love or the thrill of water skiing won’t simply fail to persuade him – they will make no sense to him. But knowing what you know, if you could talk to one, you would try to assure him, to welcome him to his new world, to work to allay his concerns. There really is something better on this side.
Sadly, for far too many people today, this world is the “final” destination. As I argued in my last post, many today try to soak in as much adventure and stimulation and experience as they possibly can, grabbing for all the gusto they can get, hoping that somehow they can hang on to at least some of it for long enough to make it all seem worthwhile - to ward off the despair that descends upon them like the summer fog. But it slips through our fingers all too fast. While we run from thing to thing, someone on the other side is knocking. He’s promising that His side is, well, orders of magnitude greater than anything our side has to offer. But we must trust in Him, because not only can we not see it….like the fetus, we wouldn’t understand it even if we could. And just as the fetus has no choice but to trust his mother, so too must we place our trust in the One who first called us into being.
Jesus paved the way for us to that other side. There He stands, beckoning to us to place our trust in Him so that He can do the work that needs to be done to "deliver us." Like the OB who eases the process of birth, Jesus has the power to complete and, in a real sense perfect, our lives and give meaning to this journey. And just as the mother sacrifices for the sake of her unborn child - indeed endures excruciating pain on his behalf - so too does Jesus’ work on the cross safeguard our transition to the other side. We remain safe and secure in His arms, if we will just accept the gift He offers.
Of course, this view doesn’t fully answer the problem of human suffering. And it's not meant to trivialize the suffering that occurs here day after day. Somethingbad happened to man in the Fall, something that translates for us into pain. There is no denying that, no way to minimize it by trite explanations, and no way to wish it away. Perhaps we had mental or physical powers that once protected us, but no longer. And for many – no, for all human beings – pain is a reality that we each must grapple with, day in and day out. But if this analogy I offer is even close to being true, what will matter for us will not be what pain we suffered here, but whether we were successful in making it to the other side. This present suffering will pale in comparison to what is to come; even 100 years on Earth will be but the blink of an eye, when compared to an eternity spent living fully and joyously in God's presence, finally and forever free from pain,from worry, from separation, from lack of any kind. In the end, perhaps, the pain will simply be forgotten, part of a necessary foundation but not something we will need to think about, or care to.
Once there, I don’t think we will be looking back, worried about any of what we suffered… or all of it. Liberated at last, we will be glad that we made the journey, and above all filled with the joy that comes from finally returning home.