Our senior pastor preached a couple of weeks ago on the John 14 and the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word used for the Spirit in this passage can be translated dozens of ways, from comforter to encourager to helper to guide. Dale Brunner translates it “true friend.” The NRSV and the NIV use “advocate.”
As I sat there in worship, my pregnant belly pressing up on my increasingly hardworking lungs as I listened to the sermon, my thoughts turned to the upcoming birth of our youngest and I realized that labor offered me another way to describe the Holy Spirit–as a doula.
A little over six years ago, when we were preparing for our oldest son’s birth, Daryl and I went back and forth about whether or not to hire a doula–an assistant dedicated to caring for and supporting the mother during the months leading up to birth and then during the birth itself.
We were united in believing a doula would be helpful to us–after all, I’d never had a baby before, and though Daryl is pretty much the most supportive and intuitive husband ever, he’s still a dude and he’d never been to a birth before either.
But we weren’t sure it was financially wise. Having babies isn’t free, after all, and our little ministry-and-PhD-student-budget was rapidly approaching the red line of disaster. A doula would be an added expense, and not an essential one like, you know, diapers.
Still, we decided to interview a few women before making a decision. Ten minutes into our meeting with Anna, we were sold.
“Pay her whatever she wants,” I told Daryl. “I’ll sell a kidney if I need to.”
Illegal organ sales aside (I was joking, people!), her services were worth every penny.
When the night of Lincoln’s birth finally came (10 days overdue, I might add…!), Anna met us in the hospital parking lot. I was so far into labor-land by the time we arrived that I didn’t even recognize her. She wrapped me in a hug, smelling of lavender, and said, “Those are labor sounds you’re making! This is it!”
In the delivery room, Anna pressed her hands into my lower back, taking away the worst of the pain and pressure in an instant. She swayed with me during contractions, finding the deep, internal, feminine rhythm I needed. She offered me water and juice, reminded me to relax when I started to panic, wrapped me in blankets when my shivering became uncontrollable.
She ministered to Daryl, too, nodding to him when he looked worried to signal everything was okay, staying with me when he needed a bathroom break or to stretch his legs for a moment.
Our doula was mostly silent but always present. In the wee hours of the night that stretched into morning, she prayed with us, groaned with us, waited with us, fought with us. When it was finally time for Lincoln to come blinking into the world, I started to panic.
“You’ve got this,” she told me. “Jesus is here.”
Often we–pastors, theologians, Christian educators, Christian lay people–frame the work of God as a “God saves me and then I work really hard to be good and do what’s right” type dance, when really, it’s a partnership all the way.
The Holy Spirit guides and guards, encourages and uplifts, mentors and serves as the birth assistant to the good work God wants to bring forth from our lives.
It’s not an easy process, nor is it pain-free. But we do not labor alone. In the darkest night, in the longest day, in the throes of aching, back-breaking perseverance, God goes with us.
As Jesus puts it in John 14:16-17:
[The Father] will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Forever the Spirit is with us. What grace. What love. What a doula.
What is God birthing in you?