spiritual midwives

if you’ve been reading here for a while you know that i have more kids than the average person–5 lovely little bunnies, ranging from my oldest who just left for college down to twins that are almost 11.  when the twins were born, there were a few months that i had 5 kids under the age of 7; yeah, it was really nutty.  one thing that i always get to use when i play the game “two truths & a lie” is that i delivered all 5 of my kids naturally, no epidurals, no demerol, no nothing (and just to go out with a bang, the twins were 6 1/2 pounds each!).  in reality, i am not opposed to pain medicine (and trust me, i cried out for it more than once) but i had midwives in the hospital for 3 of the 4 deliveries and just ended up making it through without ever getting any drugs.   if i compare my midwife births to the one with a doctor, there really is no comparison in terms of the love, care, nurturing and support that i got through the entire process. i’m not dissing doctors in any way; they do a great job, but for me, i’ll take a midwife anyday.

they were gentle, strong, nurturing, challenging, present, wise, compassionate, and patient in a time of a lot of pain.

a while back a friend of mine told me that she was really thankful that i had been her “spiritual midwife” during a season of spiritual shifting and big pain & change in her life.   i have since often reflected on these words & how this metaphor is a very important one with so many people experiencing huge spiritual shifts or moving to new places in their life & story for a variety of reasons.  we need patient guides, people to hold our hands and remind us to breathe, people who recognize and respect the birthing-something-new process who don’t try to rush it or numb it out.

yeah, i think we need more spiritual midwives.

 

the typical-western-doctor-medical-model seems to kind of fit with so many of our christian experiences.  the you-just-need-to-take-this-do this-stop-doing-that-believe this-work-toward-that mantra is the response that so many people get when they start to question, doubt, shift, or end up in some weird fork in the road of their spiritual journey.  so what ends up happening to some is the pain gets too great & they just end up numbing themselves out and migrating back to what’s comfortable & familiar even though it doesn’t bring life or hope anymore. or for others, they may gut it out alone & end up never getting the joy of holding “the baby” because the process stripped everything instead of just the stuff that needed to be stripped.  and i know for many of us we just long for a c-section, a please-just-get-to-the-end-of-this-now, instead of having to go through the pain of an unknown & scary process.

midwives understand the process of giving birth.  they understand that it takes time.  that it’s going to hurt.  and that there are certain things we can do to hang on through the pain, but that there’s no way around it.  that natural & present is better than artificial & checked out.

so many people i know are shifting in their faith, longing to give birth to something new but not knowing what’s going to emerge.  there’s so much fear & confusion & loneliness & pain in that season, and while no one can do the work for us it is so much better when there are others along the way who can help guide, nurture, and remind that it won’t be like this forever and that something beautiful & wonderful can, indeed, emerge from the pain.

we need spiritual midwives who:

  • remind us not to rush the process. i have seen so many people who want to move quickly through the pain of a shifting faith or a hard story & get to a new high too quick.  it just doesn’t seem to work that way for most people.  it can be long, agonizing, tiring.  we need midwives who tell us we can’t hurry the process.
  • let us express our pain instead of numb it. they will listen to our anger, our fear, our venting, our hurt, our angst and not expect it to go away right away.  they understand that raw honesty is helpful instead of pretending or numbing out and losing touch with what’s really going on inside.  they trust at some point we’ll stop yelling and crying.
  • hold our hand and remind us to breathe. i have some amazing friends in my life who really have stuck with me through all the nuttiness of my journey.  they won’t let go of me.  they return my phone calls and hold me when i cry.  they gently point me toward what’s good, what’s beautiful, what’s hopeful but without telling me what i should do and how i should do it.
  • help us see the beauty in the process even when we aren’t looking so beautiful. to me, giving birth, while beautiful in so many ways, also can be kind of rough & hard & ugly.  it doesn’t seem like it’s us at our best, although maybe it actually really is. when it comes to the spiritual things being born & re-born in us, we need midwives who help celebrate the beauty of the moment, of what’s emerging, of what God is doing us in the midst regardless of what it might look like at the moment.
  • know if we hang on long enough & see the process through, a “baby” will be born that will need nurturing, love & care. i do think there is a point in the spiritual journey where a baby emerges.  some of the pushing is over, it doesn’t hurt anymore.  new hope is somehow born.  but like a newborn baby, it needs lots of food & care & love and can’t survive without it.   the new things surfacing in us spiritually need tending to so that they can be healthy & strong over time.

oh this metaphor has so many facets to it, but i think i’ll stop here for now. i like to think that when Jesus tells nicodemus in john 3 that we must be “born again” that there’s much more to it than just eternal salvation.  i think our faith will need to be re-born again and again over the course of our journey.  as i reflect on the need for spiritual midwives, i am reminded just how wild and beautiful and scary “giving birth” really is.  there’s no question it is full of paradoxes. pain & joy, hope & fear, pretty & ugly.

it’s why we need companions & guides along the way who will help us see the beauty, the hope, the life, the light, the possibility that can emerge if we bravely stay with it and trust that something new, something good is coming even when we can’t believe it.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

18 Comments

  • Wow, Kathy. YES!!

    God has given me that in the midst of the choas – and given me the role of being that, at the same time. (How’s that for a paradox.) 🙂

    And what emerges in that space is powerful and strong – tender and compassionate – rock solid foundation to build on…. what it is really all about, in the end. 😉

    Thank you for sharing. You have been a beacon to me these last few years in the midst of redefining my beliefs and seeking real Truth. Still looking (probably a lifelong process), but closer now than I have ever been – clearer (at least today) that it has been in a long time. And what you describe in this post is exactly what helped me get this far. And you have been a part of that. 🙂

    Reply
  • Kath,
    You have hit a serious chord… in the world of fast, and as little pain as possible please, you are talking about a process where there will be pain and struggle, and an out come that will take a life time.

    What a delight of refreshment: that this is a long journey of faith with lists of twists and turns, some of them messy, some of them painful, and some delightful.

    Thanks for just being you! and bringing this refreshing message of hope in the midst of struggle. Hugs TD

    Reply
  • Such a beautiful post, Kathy! This is exactly why I pursued training in spiritual direction, because I didn’t have a spiritual midwife when my faith starting shifting and it was a long, hard journey on my own (poetry helped A LOT!). And I would totally recommend Margaret Guenther’s Holy Listening, she explores the midwife metaphor, too. Its an incredibly powerful image.

    Reply
  • The analogy, once rolling, seems to go on and on….loved the reminder. How well I remember trying to look intently into the eyes of the caregiver/midwife person attending to the birth of each of my 4 children…looking for that reassurance in the eyes, “I know, it hurts like hell…but you are going to make it thru this and be ok….” Thanks for sharing that look with me on more than one occasion in yet another raw and real birthing events in my own journey.

    Reply
  • Love love LOVE the analogy – we had only one significant interaction with a doctor during the birth of our three and it was not a good one. She seemed too engrossed in the science, the right and wrong, the numbers to remember that the patient(s) were people who were a little scared, completely out of their comfort zone and staring in the face of a complete life-change. We avoided doctors as much as we possibly could after that and were hugely thankful for professional but caring midwives.

    I’m sure I have been that person – concerned for the letter, the right and wrong and the numbers – when people have needed me to love and nurture them. Come to think of it, it probably happens every day!

    Reply
  • katherine – thank you for sharing. i always love the paradoxes, too, they are so real. we can be both wounded & healer, no question. i do look forward to the day we get to have a real conversation, that will be fun.

    tena – thanks for reading & for sharing. yeah, our tendency to detour pain isn’t helpful in so many ways. what we gain that process is so good, so beautiful, and so hard. lots to keep learning, that’s for sure.

    jessica – me, too, that’s why i switched from counseling to spiritual direction way back when, too. and when i have needed the most guidance in this new season, every time i go to my sd i am always comforted & challenged vs. feeling shamed or hurried. i am so glad you will be able to help younger people give birth to something new sooner, too, that will be a huge gift. love to you from colorado.

    randi – thanks, my friend. the wild twists and turns have been really fun to see over these past few years…glad you’re here.

    michelle
    – thanks for being the inspiration behind this. that metaphor really stuck with me. i love this line “yeah, it hurts like hell but you’ll make it through…”

    theexile
    – thanks for reading & being part of the carnival from afar. i am with you, too, on even knowing how much it is not helpful that sometimes i just want people to “get there” faster than they are. this is a good reminder for me, too, how important the slow & natural process is and to trust it more.

    Reply
  • suzanah – thanks for reading, i am glad it stirred up some good stuff.

    sarah – thanks for reading & for sharing with your circle, too. congratulations, too, btw 🙂

    jamie – i am glad you stopped by.

    praiseternal
    – thanks for reading & for sharing. you wrote some lovely thoughts..

    Reply
  • What a lovely analogy.

    I had both of my girls (ages 18 months and 4 years) naturally…without any drugs. I would describe birth as empowering, frightening, beautiful, painful, and peaceful…all at the same time!

    Reply
  • I’ve thought of this analogy soooooo many time. I’m a nurse so I’ve seen the devastating consequences of rushing things, I”ve had beautiful homebirths with a midwife who I call friend. I love the idea of a spiritual midwife. I find it so interesting how a lot of birthing choices, parenting choices ect. tie in so closely with our spiritual beliefs…..

    Reply
  • stephanie – so sorry i am just now responding, i somehow missed replying way back when! those are awesome words to describe the process, both practically giving birth to children & also changes in our faith journey!

    jenn – thanks for taking time to comment. i love the reminder of the consequences of “rushing” birth…it’s somehow going against the natural process. learning to let go and trust that baby will eventually come is so hard when we just want the pain to be over. thanks for sharing!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *