"Woman in Blue Reading a Letter" by Johannes Vermeer
“Every day brings its own duty and its own discipline. How is it that I make such slow progress while this is the case? It is a marvel to me why God allows characters like mine to defile His Church. I can only account for it with the thought that if I am ever perfected, I shall be a great honor to His name….”
– Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward
It is a wondrous thing that, precisely when we are striving to do a good thing, to amend our characters, we find ourselves at a stalemate with our own wills. As St. Paul says, "The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not" (Romans 7:18b).
Throughout this pregnancy, I have striven to be more stalwart than I was with my last. To not indulge myself in complaining; to be pleasant to my family and friends, despite the discomforts that this joyous condition brings; to offer any suffering up to God on behalf of those who have been able to share in the miracles of motherhood, though they so dearly might wish to. As the pregnancy progressed, I willed to be patient, again not to complain, and to count each day with my little son as a blessing, whether in my womb or outside of it. "The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not."
Of course, the Lord knew what I willed to do. And, so didn't He send me the blessings of sciatica, heartburn, joint trouble, and fatigue, that I might rise to the occasion and see myself sanctified by His Spirit? Only, when the rubber hit the road, so did I, whining to my husband, being snappish with my little daughter, and complaining to all and sundry that this pregnancy was so much more difficult than the previous one. All this, while I have been witness to pregnancies that have been ever so much more difficult than mine and knowing women who would desperately give anything on earth simply to be pregnant! How ungrateful I have been!
As soon as I hit my 37th week of gestation, I became horribly impatient for labor to begin. But, I had determined that I would learn patience, that fruit of the Spirit that I am most lacking in. So, God allowed other pregnant ladies around me to deliver early, while I got nearer and nearer my due date. He sent me well-meaning souls who would ask questions like, "You're still here? You haven't popped yet?" (Fortunately, these comments at least, I managed to take as kindness and respond to with grace: something I did not manage last time around, when I dreaded meeting people that I knew who might ask such things. See, I am learning some things.) He increased my discomforts; He sent me the anxious pokes of false labor and other signs that labor might be beginning, only to ask me to wait a little longer. And, what did I do? I became frustrated, even angry, and at times dejected. How childish; how silly of me!
When I reflect on the situation, I shake my head to know how foolishly I have behaved in all this. Not that I was always petulant and anxious for every moment of the pregnancy. There have been many ways in which I believe God has done many good works in me through this experience, not the least of which is growing my son in my womb! But today, I give thanks that God has opened my eyes to some of the sins I might like to brush off as just a part of the process; those nagging habits of complaint and impatience that have ever been my burden--that He is ever so diligently pruning away. When at last He opened my eyes, I stopped merely willing and started praying about these things, and I find that He is truly a good Father Who can teach even me, an impatient, ill-attentive, petulant pupil!
I have a new peace that I cannot describe or thank Him enough for. The false labor continues to disrupt my sleep; the joint pain has gotten, if anything, worse! Each day brings me closer to going "past due." Yet, I am at peace. I find that I have new strength to get down on the floor and play with my little daughter, even though my hips hurt. I find that I am not so short with my husband and can even listen compassionately to his complaints without the need to give him a litany of my own. Most importantly, I find that I am trusting God for the perfect timing of this little boy's birth, and I am truly grateful for each day that I can feel him in my womb, for each little kick in the ribs, for each night of heartburn that reminds me that he is well, that reminds me how blessed I am to have been granted the ability and privilege of bearing children!
The work is not over. I find that I continually, hourly, even minutely, need to return to my Father's arms, to allow His Spirit to fill me that I will not fall back on the habits I have so long let sprout weeds in the garden of my character. But, if I do it, He is faithful, and the pruning continues. Though it is not always easy, it is good, and I am thankful for these lessons, which He has taught me so gently. He is kind beyond measure.