Liuan Huska knows pain well. At age 22, she started having chronic ankle pain that spread through her body and spiraled her into depression and anxiety. We resist pain naturally, like a child who touches a hot stove and jumps back. But what if we let the pain work on us, instead of resisting? Can we trust that God feels our pain with us? It’s a grace to welcome Liuan to the farm’s front porch today…
Labor with my first child started days before his delivery.
When we finally made it to the hospital, one cold Saturday morning, I groaned intermittently, trying not to brace against the pain but rather lean into the heavy feeling of release.
I tried. But I had one big fear, which I muttered to my husband, panting: “I’m worried something is going to fall out of me!!” He replied gently, “Um . . . yeah, that’s what’s supposed to happen.”
Mid-morning, our midwife suggested Pitocin. I wanted a natural, unmedicated childbirth. I realized then that I was trying to maintain control over my body. I could either let go of control, or I could hold it in and eventually need interventions, also losing control.
We asked our midwife to give us some time, and then we prayed. I began sobbing. The tears marked an internal shift, as I finally gave in to the wild birthing process. I let the waves come. I went “floppy soggy.”
A few hours later, I gave birth to a 10-pound, 7-ounce baby, with no medical interventions.
Childbirth hurts. I don’t want to do it ever again.
Having lived it, though, I can see a poetic parallel between childbirth and the rest of life.
The suffering that is childbirth required of me a surrender which took several days to give myself to.
I had to let go of my preconceptions of birth—of how it would feel, how long it would take—and simply be present to each contraction.
I had to let go of rational control over my own body and allow an intuitive, animal consciousness to take over. The pain was not something to back away from, but to melt into. It was not my enemy, but a helpful “heavy feeling of release” that would get my baby out of my womb and into my arms.
We often approach suffering as a problem to be solved. We stumble over ourselves trying to assign meaning or purpose to tragedy.
In the era of a deadly coronavirus, we ask: If God had the power to stop this, and God loves us so much, then why didn’t He? How could God allow this?
In our own personal tragedies too, we ask: Where was God when I needed God the most? Does God care, if He lets me go through this?
But instead of answering the whys, which can be a form of resistance, the more crucial task, I believe, is to let the suffering work on us.
We want to emerge not as brittle, shattered beings, but seedlings broken open, capable of giving and receiving life, in spite of—or perhaps because of—our suffering.
The apostle Paul speaks of suffering as part of the “groaning of creation” undergoing the pains of childbirth as we eagerly await redemption (Romans 8). Can we trust that our own suffering, whatever it may be, is taken up by God into this epic, universal labor of God’s deliverance of all creation? Can we give ourselves over to it, instead of resisting and holding back?
What is most comforting to me as I read the Gospels is not that Jesus explains the meaning of our suffering or that my pain “makes sense” in God’s cosmic economy. It’s that Jesus knows my suffering intimately and is here with me in it.
When Jesus encounters a funeral procession in Nain for a man who was a widow’s only son, He is “moved with compassion” for the widow and raises up her son (Luke 7:11-17 YLT).
When His friend Lazarus dies, Jesus sees Mary’s weeping, along with the other mourners,’ and is “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33).
Before conquering death, Jesus weeps.
It is so important to me that Jesus didn’t skip over this step. He didn’t jump from death to resurrection but dwelt in Holy Saturday, where so many of us spend our days.
On Holy Saturday, death has settled, and we don’t know yet when new life will come.
God’s presence is felt as a gnawing absence, a pit in our stomachs and in our souls. We yearn toward Resurrection, but our hearts are not there yet.
We need God to be here now. We need to know, as Corrie Ten Boom’s sister Betsie said, that “there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”
Jesus stayed in the pit, but He was not obliterated.
He gave Himself to the suffering set before Him, and it did not break Him to pieces but rather opened Him to new life.
This is my hope—that there is light at the end of this tunnel of death.
That when I have lost everything that makes me who I am, I will still remain, because I am held up by something more solid than my self, than my body, than my very consciousness.
I am held up by a love as strong as death (Song of Solomon 8:6).
Liuan Huska is a freelance writer, covering topics of embodiment, science and faith, and culture for publications such as Christianity Today, The Christian Century, and Sojourners. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and three little boys.
Liuan writes about her chronic pain journey in Hurting Yet Whole: Reconciling Body and Spirit in Chronic Pain and Illness. The book is for those who need to know: “Your body matters, your pain matters, you are seen and heard.” But it is also for those who walk alongside those with chronic conditions, who feel the ache of seeing a loved one whose suffering has no foreseeable end.
Visit her website to find more resources, including a discussion guide for Hurting Yet Whole and a companion set of audio meditations inviting you to come home to your own body, a holy space where God is present.