Just as I was ready to check out of this day, to not talk about the election at all because I’m feeling so confused and helpless and hopeless, my colleague Regina messaged me. “Today I am simply trying to breathe. Thank you for helping me remember that.”
It’s always ironic when your own advice comes back to you, just when you least want to follow it. I’d said that bit about breathing just Monday afternoon, at our annual pastors’ conference for my region. New England Bishop Jim Hazelwood was leading us in discussion about a church that is not dying, but being reborn. We were exploring the metaphor of the church being in labor pains, as a new way of being in the world comes to birth. Being 28 weeks pregnant, the metaphor hits close to home, and feels apt both for my ministry and my motherhood right now. At some point in the conversation, we were talking about what it means to be a leader in the midst of labor pains, and I said this:
“All we can be is midwives, sitting with our people in the midst of extraordinary pain, and reminding them to breathe. And nobody wants a pastor who does that.”
Less than 36 hours later, the pain of our nation levelled up a notch as we wrestled with the reality of a Trump presidency. How do we hold respect for the highest office in our nation, when it is held by someone who has shown a lack of respect for so many individuals and groups? How do we overcome the fear we feel as women, LGBTQ+ persons, ethnic and religious minorities, and continue to work for what we believe is right for our communities? How in the world do we talk to our children about values and civility and basic human decency when we can’t count on our President to do the same?
Now perhaps you are on the other side of all this, and are getting from Trump exactly what you hoped for, what you voted for. It might feel lessened at this moment, but the pain you experience as part of this nation is high as well. You are fearful about our economic situation, maybe even your own job or lon-term security. You look around and think there is not enough for all of us, especially if that all includes illegal immigrants and refugees. You too have felt silenced and disrespected and disenfranchised.
Dear ones, we are all experiencing extraordinary pain, but I believe it is labor pain, the intensity of which increases the closer we get to new birth. Just as the church is contracting again and again as a new reality comes to life, our nation is preparing to become a new creation as well. It is scary, we want drugs to numb the pain, but the laboring continues until the birth. We are in for more gut-wrenching moments before the joy comes.
So how do we live as we labor?
We breathe through the pain, and surround ourselves with others who will coach us to breathe when we forget how.
We put ourselves through childbirth classes, consulting experts both political and spiritual, as we figure out what we might be able to expect in this process.
We rest between contractions, and if the pain is too much, we take advantage of the non-life threatening numbing agents available to us: eating, drinking, exercise, massage, yoga, etc.
When the time is ripe, we push with all our might, bringing to bear all of our strength and conviction, until we hear the piercing cry and first breath of new life.
And most of all we hope for a live birth, tender and full of promise, that we can all tend together into a strong and resilient adult.
And here is the most hopeful part: unlike the little control I have over the developing child in my physical womb, the nation that we birth next is largely determined by those who labor for its delivery. That is the one thing that repeats itself in American history again and again: this nation becomes who we are. And so many of you, on both sides of this election, are beautiful, compassionate, intelligent people with whom I will be proud to bear this baby nation into the future.