I love how childbirth lends itself so beautifully to metaphor. Giving birth is a singular event that embodies the multiplicity of human experience. A lifetime's worth of pain, fear, struggle, hope, courage, focus, triumph, and elation all in the span of a day (or more, if you're really unlucky). I love in particular how childbirth illuminates the purpose of pain. When giving birth, every arduous contraction serves the goal of ushering in new life. In childbirth, pain proffers posterity.
I've been going through a birthing process of sorts, initiated by my baptism into the Mormon church twenty-six years ago. My life in the church has consistently been marked by periods of intense pain and periods of sweet relief. It is ongoing and just when I think I've reached the promised land, another stinging swell washes over me. As with childbirth, I have to remind myself that the strenuous seasons in my spiritual life are purposeful; they exist to birth within me a better and deeper faith.
I watch now as another harrowing stretch approaches and do not walk but trudge through the valley of the shadow of doubt. There are moments when I feel like I am a stranger in my own religious community and am acutely aware of the ways in which my inner compass is too often at odds with my Mormonism. This is deeply distressing, and I try desperately and often unsuccessfully to maintain my vulnerability in spite of it. Just yesterday I made the mistake of reading nearly two hundred comments on Facebook from fellow Mormons responding to the Boy Scout of America's decision to allow transgender boys to participate in their programs. The majority of the comments used scripture and The Proclamation on the Family to renounce transgender children and their families. Because my sister is transgender, this topic is more tender than most, and so I spent the rest of the evening fighting off the feeling that I don't belong here among the saints. I remind myself that we all see through a glass darkly, especially me, and that we are all doing our clumsy best here on earth. Even so, feelings are a hard lot to reason with.
The only thing I know to do with this heartache is to adhere to another birth metaphor. When giving birth, it helps to surrender to the pain. Resisting contractions with gritted teeth and clenched muscles only makes it harder for your body to deliver the baby and results in profound suffering. Contrarily, relaxing into the discomfort allows your body to do its job more effectively, and you will not hurt nearly as much. Put simply: surrendering subdues the suffering.
Can I accept that pain is part and parcel of any faith transition? Can I relax into the deep discomfort of spiritual discontent and come out the other end with more humility and grace than when I entered? Can I open the door to pain so that I may better learn her hard-won lessons? I hold these questions close to my heart as I labor, and I envision, with each contraction, a sweet and sturdy faith waiting to be born.