She looked into my eyes and said, ‘don’t be afraid’. Staring back into her strikingly blue eyes, I pushed- Boy did I push!
It was only later as I lay there on a damp bed, covered in blood, urine and Lord knows what else, that I realised how afraid I had been. Giving birth in hospital, on my back, drip in hand and strapped up to monitors was far away from the serine home water birth I had envisaged and planned for.
But it wasn’t the contractions that filled me with fear. They weren’t easy but were bearable with pain relief. They were safe territory. They would come with increasing regularity. My response was always the same: feel the start, take the Entonox (gas and air) and ride it out whilst mooing like a cow! There was safety in the regularity of the pain, with predictability comes comfort.
Instead, the fear came just as I was getting into the swing of contractions- feel the start, take the Entonox and moo- when the midwife interrupted my flow. “You need to put that down and push.”
Now, I’ve never told a labouring woman to put down her gas and air. I’ve never told her to lay aside her lifeblood (barely an exaggeration) and “bear down”. But I can guess that my facial expression was not appreciative. My look conveyed how I felt. I was scared. The midwife was asking me to move away from a predictable and, in many respects, bearable kind of pain into a new stage, an unknown stage.
It was then that the maternity support worker looked straight at me and said, “Don’t be afraid”
What strange words to say.
I can’t recall any other time in my life where someone has uttered those words directly to me.
‘Do not be afraid’ or ‘do not fear’ is the most repeated phrase in the Bible.
Jesus said it various times, including when he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:36)
“Don’t be afraid; just believe’’
Being around Jesus must have been scary. Traveling with a revolutionary rabbi with no income, possessions or home is not for the faint hearted. But the disciples and those following him would have become used to this discomfort. The risk of arrest or even stoning would have become a predictable background noise to his three years of ministry. In fact, there is comfort in such predictability.
I found contractions to be a painful but bearable, an almost comfortable kind of pain. It’s enough for a pat on the back to congratulate myself that I am making an effort. But it is in the pushing where comfort is abandoned. There is no predictability; no turning back, the future is unknown.
Jesus didn’t say ‘do not be afraid’ about the everyday, predictable awkwardness of following him. That’s not to say that living the Gospel isn’t difficult or painful, but often it is within our control. We choose to place ourselves in difficult situations, engaging outside of our social circle, be it at a homeless shelter or a toddler group. As we leave the house to travel to such events we can anticipate what might be difficult; finding something to talk about or perhaps dealing with inappropriate comments. We can anticipate and even plan for this type of discomfort.
This awkwardness, difficulty and pain is important and necessary. We grow in this time. But we cannot remain in this place if we expect continued growth. We must transition into the unknown.
Jesus said “Don’t be afraid; just believe’’ when he was about to raise a girl from the dead. Let’s not forget that this was as scary and unknown then as it would be now- he was about to raise a dead child to life!
Jesus looks us in the eye and tells us to not be afraid at the same time as pulling us out of our comfort.
If we want to experience new life being born, we have to be willing to leave the comfortable discomfort of predictable suffering.
It’s okay to be scared. If you weren’t scared Jesus wouldn’t need to look you in the eye and say,
“Don’t be afraid; just believe’’