Pain in Childbearing

By Paul Koch

Now today is a great day. It’s Mother’s Day! And if there was ever a cause worthy to observe, I think that motherhood is a great one. Now, truth be told, sermons on Mother’s Day can be a bit dicey. See, while we all may want to honor our mothers on Mother’s Day, it sometimes goes awry in practice. So, on Mother’s Day you will have those who will be consumed with guilt for how they have treated or mistreated their own mothers, and a sermon highlighting how mothers ought to be honored will only drive them further into despair. Then there are the mothers who will hear the glowing praise of motherhood in a sermon only to receive it as some impossible standard that they have not kept. Or perhaps this is a day of longing by those who didn’t have great mothers, and so a sermon focusing on Mother’s Day will only seek to increase their sadness. Then there are those who mourn the loss of a mother, and on the list goes. You see, Mother’s Day like mothers themselves is not a simple thing.

This is why when we gather together around the gifts of our Lord it is better to focus on his Word rather than our bright ideas. But since we can’t ignore Mother’s Day in the church, perhaps we can focus our celebration a bit. A good friend of mine was once asked what his congregation was doing for Mother’s Day. Some were handing out carnations, others little pins or trinkets of some sort. And so they ask him, “What are you going to give them?” He replied, “Jesus. I’m going to give them Jesus: the same thing I give them every Sunday.” You know, I don’t see how you can go wrong with that.

Way back at the beginning of all things, something profound happened to motherhood. Something that is felt each and every day of all of human history down to this very moment. There in the garden, after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit they received a curse from the Creator. Remember how he told the man that the ground would no longer produce its food with ease, but by the sweat of his brow he would eat his bread. Remember how the serpent was cursed to go on his belly and eat the dust of the earth. But to Eve, to our first mother, he said, “I will multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain you shall bring forth children.” My wife and I have often talked about how that curse wasn’t just about the moments of labor. Pain in childbearing isn’t confined to how many hours you gritted through contractions, or how long it took to recover from a c-section. No, when God says that in pain you will bring forth children, he is speaking about all the worries and fears and errors of motherhood. All the second guessing, all the frustrations and sleepless nights, the unspeakable regrets and silent doubts. These too are part of the pain.

In fact, this pain isn’t contained only in the life of the woman, but it plagues all of humanity. All parents know the struggles. You hear it first from the older generations. When those who have grandchildren or great-grandchildren watch the nightly news and shake their heads and wonder how is anyone is to raise a child in this culture? With social media and hyper-connectivity, no privacy and advertisements everywhere you look, how can you bring forth children that will be strong and courageous and honorable? How do you protect our children? For you can’t be there all the time. Simply knowing that is part of the pain, knowing that you will one day leave them and hoping that they can see what you see. Praying that they can see the dangers, that they can see the pitfalls that this world places before the children of God. That fear and worry is part of the real pain that comes with children.

In our text today from John 17, we are given an opportunity to overhear our Lord speaking to his Father about you. About the children of God. Perhaps it is just because I’m a parent, but I think that you can really hear the concern, the fear and the worry in his voice, much like any parent has for their child. He says, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” You see, he sees what the children do not. He knows the reality of the evil one, that there is opposition. There is one who would lead them astray and have them abandon the ways of the Lord. He sees the lurking wolves and knows that the children are in danger each and every day.

Now his heartfelt concern isn’t just that there are wolves out there seeking to devour them, but that he is not going to be there. He says, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost… But now I am coming to you.” He sees the danger. He knows the danger, but he will not be there. This is the struggle of every parent who begins to allow his child to make her own mistakes. When you know what ought to be done. You know the right thing to do, but they have to go it alone. It’s dangerous. It’s risky. And letting go is the last thing you want to do.

For the children of God, the attacks are relentless and brutal. They come from all sides and in various disguises. There are, of course, the obvious and external attacks; from open persecution of the church to belittling the faithful in the media. But then there are the other much more effective and subtle dangers. The lure of our modern society with its consumerist ideology that influences what we value and what we prioritize in life. Worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who became flesh and dwelt among us to set us free from sin, death and the devil is routinely and easily set aside for passing moments of entertainment or recreation. There is the relentless sinner within that causes us to doubt the promises of the Gospel or deny the threats of the Law. You know the attacks, they are everywhere.

Now as a parent we may strive to leave our children with something of ourselves, some words of wisdom, some guiding principles that might come to their aid as they chart the dangerous waters of this world. But our Lord, why, he leaves the children of God with something far more powerful than memories and principles. He leaves a living and life-giving Word. It is a Word that still does things. It still can bring about the death of a sinner, it still can give life to those who have died. As Jesus prays to his Father he says, “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” This Word is what has called us together this day, and it is this Word that gives you life and salvation. The Word is all that you need to endure, to press on as we await the return of our Lord.

The pain of childbearing can become overwhelming without the Word. We have our fears and worries. What if my daughter falls in love with an unbeliever? What if my son doubts the gifts of his baptism? What if I haven’t been a good enough father? What if I have led them to view the church and the gifts of Christ with indifference? What then? Well, the Word still speaks. The Word calls a sin a sin, it reveals that you cannot do it on your own. The Word says that all fathers fall short and all mothers are sinners. The Word holds us all accountable before the judgment seat of God. The Word brings humility and repentance to your hearts. But the Word is just getting started. The Word then speaks of hope and assurance and life everlasting. For the Word delivers to you the full and free gifts of Christ. Despairing of yourself the Word then says, “You are forgiven, you are loved, you are Christ’s. All that is his is given to you, and all that is yours he has born in his flesh.” So, get up one more time and try one more time. Love one more time. Forgive one more time. For you are not alone, you are not forgotten.