I remember the loss of control I felt when I was pregnant. This little life governed every aspect of my existence. My belly stretched to unbelievable proportions, and I moved, slept, ate, drank, and lived differently, surrendering every aspect of my being. During the birth process itself I aligned my breathing, position, and will to a force that was beyond me. The more I tried to fight the process, slow it down, or wrest in into submission, the more it hurt. At times I wondered whether I could survive, but what kept me going was the realization that my body was giving birth to new life.
Of course, the surrender did not end with that joyous birth. An infant has a way of taking over, and I could never return to the "normal" ways I knew before. My schedule, relationships, priorities, marriage, and social network were never the same again.
As I look back now from the vantage point of my empty nest, I realize how much pain I have forgotten – from the pregnancy, the birth, and the decades-long process of raising three amazing young men. Though they also caused more grey hairs than I can count, the joy of parenting them has far outweighed any pain I endured.
What does all this have to do with faith?
God is calling me to continually give birth to new life. I have responded in many ways, served and sacrificed, and done good work in God’s name. Yet I know in my heart that I have not completely surrendered. I respond with "OK God, but…." and then I list all my conditions. I want to choose what I give birth to. I want to control the process, which needs to be convenient and fit into my chosen schedule. I want to make sure it doesn’t hurt too much, and I don’t want it to be risky, especially if I have to give up something to get there. I don’t want to be afraid. I want to cling to my favored sources of security. I don’t want to surrender too completely, and certainly not body, mind, and soul. In other words, I refuse God the very things that I know from intimate knowledge are required to give birth. To bring fullness of life, God needs more.
Unfortunately, surrendering to God is not a one-time decision like becoming pregnant, when I could not take a day off, allow my body to change only in certain ways, or be half-pregnant. With God, it is a continual decision that I need to reaffirm over and over again, and it is too easy to stop at a comfortable level of discipleship. Can I allow myself to truly be pregnant, centering my life totally around God and yielding my whole being? Can I trust the process if I am not in control? Am I willing to endure whatever pain may come, believing that the resulting new life will be worth it?
It is such a struggle. I go back and forth, sometimes relaxing my grasp and sometimes clinging with all my might. Even the assurance that new, greater, and more authentic life will follow can seem like insufficient motivation to plunge in and surrender.
I don’t know if it will ever be easy, but I’ll keep trying. Perhaps one day I will be able to say "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word." Then truly God’s life will be born in me.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.