image of God
I do not like the experience of pregnancy. There. I said it.
I like the fact of being pregnant. I love the gift of life, the sheer blessedness of getting to bring a child into this world. I love the answer to prayer brought by pregnancy after infertility and miscarriage, the undeserved grace that this is how our story turned out. I love the overwhelming abundance of a healthy pregnancy, knowing that – for now – everything looks good with the baby growing within me.
But I hate the way I feel and think and act while pregnant.
I hate morning sickness that drags months beyond what every expert tells you is “normal.” I hate taking medicine merely to function beyond the overwhelming nausea. I hate the exhaustion that sends me to bed at 8:30 most nights. I hate the nagging back pain and the chronic discomfort and the unmentionable side effects. I hate how big I get so quickly, how eyebrows raise when I tell my due date because it doesn’t fit anyone’s mental math of how I must be packing my hospital bag already.
I do not glow. Mostly I glower.
And then – because of the infertility and the miscarriage and the awareness of how pregnancy and parenthood have brought unexpected suffering to so many people I love – I feel guilty on top of everything else.
No wonder the baby’s estimated arrival date is circled and highlighted and exclamation-pointed on every calendar I can find.
. . .
When I started reading Sarah Jobe’s Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy, I was wary. Of course I love a good practical theology as much as the next girl with a Master of Divinity degree, but I could not bear a feel-good tribute to pregnancy’s bountiful blessings.
Thank God, the author felt the same:
Pregnancy is at the heart of God’s work in the world. Pregnant women are the image of God among us. But those truths are sometimes hard to see…I still can’t bring myself to say that I love pregnancy. But deep down, I really do. Pregnancy is a place where heaven and earth meet and constipation takes on cosmic significance. What’s not to love?
I decided I could stomach this spiritual spin on What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Over the past few weeks, Jobe’s book has made me think about pregnancy in a different light.
When I threw up in the kitchen sink on the morning of week 22.
When I admitted to my husband that the maternity coat that was supposed to last the long Minnesota winter was perhaps getting a teensy bit snug.
When my chiropractor whistled and said, “Wow, you’re one tough cookie,” at the last adjustment to relieve my throbbing low back pain.
None of this was what I wanted. But this is simply the reality of pregnancy in my life.
So where is God in all that mess?
Jobe’s book reminded me to look at the flip side of pregnancy’s suffering. To see the grueling work of creation, the giving work of laying down your self for another, the groaning work of birthing new life into the world.
All of it is shot through with God. But not the doe-eyed Precious Moments God plastered across Hallmark cards and nursery decorations.
The God I meet in pregnancy and the work I do in pregnancy are nothing like I expected. But I’m realizing that they might reveal even more about God’s truth than I want to admit.
God’s work in the world is nauseating. Feed the poor? Care for the sick? Visit the imprisoned? Most of what that demands makes my stomach churn.
God’s work in the world is uncomfortable. Love your enemy? Give all you have to the poor? Forgive 70 times 7? I’m already squirming just thinking about it.
God’s work in the world is unpredictable. Set my people free? Come and follow me? Go and make disciples of all nations? None of those detours were in my plans.
God’s work in the world can be peaceful and glowing, joyful and thrilling. But it can also be tumultuous and dark, unsettling and disruptive.
And if the work we’re called to do in the world is God’s work, and if the image we’re called to bring to the world is God’s image, then I don’t get a nine-month reprieve from this deepest calling of the Christian life.
If I’m trying to see the God-image in other people, I have to try to find it in the mirror, too.
. . .
So maybe it’s ok if strangers stare when they see me pregnant.
Maybe it’s fine if I look bigger or feel sicker than everyone thinks I should.
Maybe if we all bear the mystery and likeness of God to each other – and I believe we do – then pregnant moi is a visual reminder that the image of God stretches far beyond our expectations.
Whether we feel beautiful or broken, sick or strong, there is still God behind our eyes and in our bones.
Even tired mama eyes and aching pregnant bones.
Growing up, I never imagined God sweeping.
For the past few months I’ve been writing a new program on work and calling for small groups in congregations. Since we keep learning that people’s challenges with vocation often stem from a lack of understanding about how God calls, I’ve been weaving in lots of Scriptural passages that broaden our image of who God is. So lately I’ve been living and working closely with God as worker: farmer, potter, metalworker, baker and midwife, to name a few.
These biblical images of God at work are so rich and so relevant that I’m amazed to realize how easily we skip over them, so stuck is the white-bearded Father in flowing robes in our minds and in our churches.
Had it not been for graduate studies in theology, I might have missed many of these facets of Scripture’s portrait of God, too. I grew up with loving images of God – a tender shepherd, a caring father – but no one told me till I was much older that Scripture held more pictures of the divine than what I saw in my children’s Bible or the stained glass windows at church.
I love these images now: God as artist, molding us like clay. God as blacksmith, forging us in fire. God as gardener, planting and watering and waiting to harvest.
These are images of God that fire my imagination and make me believe differently – with depth, with creativity, with fresh eyes.
So now that I’m nearing the end of this writing project, I want to explore in a new way what I’ve learned and loved about these images of God at work. Especially as we begin bustling around the house, hurrying into the holidays, preparing for guests and feasts, I want to slow down and ponder images of God we often overlook.
The domestic ones. The feminine ones. The everyday ones.
(And because I’m mentally preparing for Advent, my favorite season of the year for soaking in poems and psalms, I’m inching out on a limb and playing with poetry in this space, too.)
So till tomorrow, I’ll borrow a line from Lake Wobegon country:
Be well and do good work.