The Pain and the Joy of Rebirth

Birth is messy and beautiful, extraordinary and common; it’s loss and separation and connection and hope all at once.

Rebirth, I’m learning, is much the same.

I have always had a plan for my life: college in four years with a major in English, graduate school and more degrees in English, then a tenure track job teaching English at a college. I had a plan; I followed my plan; I succeeded at my plan; and life felt nicely under my control.

And then my perfect plan began to crumble around me.

Nothing dramatic happened; no sudden loss or health crisis. But I slowly realized that my job, the job I had worked towards for a decade and a half, was draining the life out of me. I cried and prayed and worked to hang on to my career, but finally I knew that I had to let it die. So I quit my job and moved across the country with, for the first time in my life, no clear plan for my own future.

Rebirth, I’m learning, starts with death.

When Jesus tells Nicodemus, in John 3, that he must be born again, Nicodemus responds with bewilderment: how can one re-enter their mother’s womb? Perhaps he’s asking, how can we give up the things that we have achieved and acquired over the course of a lifetime and start over from the beginning?

Rebirth, I’m learning, starts with death

With “academic” stripped from my identity, I floundered. Who was I, what could I be, absent this descriptor? I mourned, sad and angry in turn, as I grappled with this death of career and identity. How could I start over? What good could possibly emerge after such a loss?

But even in this time of mourning, rebirth was beginning. God graciously held me, reminded me of promises to be with me always, and brought people into my life to encourage me. Something had died, but that seed planted in the ground was slowly, invisibly, emerging from its hull, sending tiny tendrils down as roots, beginning to reach through the dirt and darkness towards the air.

Rebirth, I’m learning, means giving up control.

A new plant, like an infant, depends on outside forces for its survival. Neither can grow and thrive on their own; they must receive food, and water, care and shelter, from the gardener or the parent. This dependence is humbling. When Nicodemus asks how one can re-enter their mother’s womb, perhaps he’s asking, how can we humble ourselves enough to accept our dependence on someone else, even when that someone is God?

We avoid the pain of rebirth because being born again means choosing to become dependent on another for shelter and nourishment and survival, choosing to return to a state of dependence that we worked so hard to escape.

Letting go of control, of my need to direct my career and my course in life, has been excruciating. I’ve had to accept living like a child, taking a step at a time without fully seeing, let alone directing, the big picture. But slowly and imperfectly, I’m beginning to accept and even, some days, appreciate this part of rebirth.

I’m rediscovering a God who loves as a mother giving birth

 I’m learning to find comfort in being drawn back into dependence, in being reminded that all good gifts come from God, our Father and our Mother. Birth is intimate and feminine, and through this process of rebirth I’m connecting to God in a new way. I’m learning, slowly, to rest in the arms of a God who nurtures and comforts, who creates new life, even out of what seems dead.

There are still days when the pain and the loss and lack of control wash over me, leaving me gasping for breath through my tears and my anger. But other days I can feel the new leaves emerging and I begin to see the shape of new life. It’s like being in labor, the pain and the joy intermingled as new life arrives. It’s like birth, as God leads me by the hand into something new, supporting me like a child just learning to walk.

I’m learning the rebirth is messy and slow; grief and gladness wrapped together; resistance slowly giving way to acceptance.

In rebirth, I’m rediscovering a God who loves as a mother giving birth, patiently nurturing new life into existence. Nicodemus asked Jesus how one could be born again. How, indeed, can one be born again? Only through the grace and love of the one through whom we are reborn into new life.

Sarah Lindsay
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