You never think about a baby being “trapped” in a mother’s womb.
Because from Kindergarten and even earlier, we understand that babies need to stay in the womb exactly until that moment when they are sufficiently grown to be born. When they can thrive on the outside.
In my experience, growing in Christ is like a series of new births. And before each new birth comes a period of gestation and growth.
There is of course the initial death and rebirth at the moment of accepting Christ and dying to the old self. However thereafter, there is a continuing cycle of progressive death to the old and birth into the new as we grow into the likeness of Christ.
It might be agonisingly painful to move from ‘glory into glory’ but it is, nonetheless, what is happening. (Even if it is not until later with the benefit of hindsight that we can see what within us was changed. Or set free. Or healed.)
Between the death of the old and rebirth into the new, there is often what seems like a period of pregnancy in the Christian walk. Seasons, if you like, where we seem held in a womb of God’s creating. Where it seems that little is happening, and the experience may be stifling and ghastly and endless.
But what is one to do?
To fight the constraints of space and air is a futile exercise. I can testify, looking back, that during these times I have been in fact receiving everything necessary to sustain my life. It just wasn’t necessarily the stuff that I would have preferred.
It would be wide open spaces for me all the way to new birth, if I had the choice.
Julie-Andrews-on-a-hilltop already exulting in where I would end up (if I could know).
However, wide open spaces are actually massively vulnerable places to be, aren’t they? You are at the mercy of every weather, undefended, with nowhere to hide. You could be attacked from any direction at any time. Since the purpose of pregnancy is growth, the safest environment possible does actually make the most sense.
God is holding me right now in that amniotic sac. It feels tight, and tighter as I grow. There’s increasingly less space, and everyone – me and those immediately around me – is growing more restless and uncomfortable with the size I am becoming. I’m taking up so much more room, and it’s not a welcome change. I myself long for it to be over, even as I recognise that God is not speeding me along to any quick circumstantial, emotional or spiritual change.
He knows how long this birth into the next stage of my transformation will take. So, in His wisdom in the meantime, He is holding me somewhere safe. It feels like constraint because I can’t yet see beyond it, but the purpose of this time is to grow me more fully into His design and to mature me into whomever I need to be — for whatever He is calling me to next.
This understanding helps me accept where I am, and transforms my response to it. I’ve stopped fighting. I can praise God for placing me in an environment where, like me, those around me may feel uncomfortable, perplexed and exasperated… yet they don’t seek to puncture my sac and lift me out or expel me. And it’s not all about me — they’re on their own journey too.
What horrible half-formed things we would be if misguided kindness or impatience cut us “free” in the process, only to condemn us to a life of dis-ability and in-competence.
Growing in Christ/being set free in Christ/maturing in Christ is an ungainly process. It is safe, but in my experience it doesn’t happen easily and I don’t find it cosy. Growing pains are real and challenging. How big, exactly, am I going to grow?? I writhe and squirm and complain and rage. But I am not in despair. I know that God is wise, and so much wiser than me. He has a bigger play on hand.
If in turn I am to be wise, I will submit to this process. And wait. And hope. And pray.
And, actually, give thanks for those around me who – while they may not understand what God is doing in me and may feel oppressed by my cumbersome size – still let the Lord finish His work, and let me be.