“I’m going to have to lay down.”
My husband’s eyes went wide, anticipating perhaps a bit of embarrassment for us both if I did so, right in the middle of the church service. I weighed my options: one, go to a back pew (assuming there was one empty) and lay down there with the risk that someone would be alarmed by the pregnant lady stretched out alone and would feel the need to intervene, two, go find somewhere in the lobby to lay down with the risk that someone would be even more greatly alarmed to find a pregnant lady on the floor, or three, stretch out right beside my husband on the pew and hope that any alarm would be mitigated by the proximity (and calm) of said husband.
See, I couldn’t breathe.
Standing or sitting there was an unbearable tightness across my chest, something I had woken up to, a small and closed-in feeling in my lungs. Breathless. I had to stretch out. Now. So I did. And the sermon floated over me and I drew truth and air in. I love to worship laid out prostrate, but this was not quite that, this was more a desperate flop, a bid for air.
It’s a vulnerable feeling, to be pregnant. There are bodily discomforts which can strip one of the ability to walk well, to eat normally, to sleep soundly, to make it more than an hour without needing a restroom. There are fears about delivery, about the health of the baby, about whether the pain will swallow one whole. Most of all, though, it is the inherent vulnerability of loving. I have growing just under my skin a soul that I would die for, that I have surging waves of love for, and that is by no means guaranteed to me. Maybe that is what miscarriage does to a mother’s heart. Two cups are put before me, one bitter and one sweet, and I’m not told which one I’ll have to drink. I wrap my arms around my swollen belly, I curl around that life.
We’re all vulnerable, though, aren’t we? If we didn’t feel that way with our friends and family going through cancers of all sorts, or divorce, or other tragedies, the news would certainly fill in the gap with some harrowing concern. I feel it each time the bus pulls away from the curb bearing three of my dear children away, away from my gaze and my protective arms to shield them from dangers, moral and material. We are vulnerable, flesh and blood creatures, so easily snuffed out, so infinitely valuable.
“For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”
Each breath, each contraction of the heart, each blink of the eye, each message sent zipping from nerve to brain, all of it held, by Him. Enabled by Him. And He is not a god of guarantees. He doesn’t give us a contract for a long and healthy life, He gives us the invitation to love, for however long we are here, vulnerably like He does.
“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” -Job 12:10
Knowing our shared fragility, let us be unafraid to lay down, to be seen as in need, to be found vulnerable. Let’s not be embarrassed. Sometimes you just have to breathe. And that can’t always be done sitting or standing respectably. We have to set aside pride to find needed relief. And laying down? It’s so close to laying prostrate, so close to fully-laid-out worship and reverence and surrender. In a fire you need to crawl below the smoke to find air. In the spiritual walk, you’ll need at times to go low, to be humbled, to be seen on your belly and gasping. Even our Lord found that place as he awaited the tortures to come on the cross.
“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'”
And do you know the miracle of it? When you do lay down? There and then you find the hands reached out in concern, there you find the prayers whispered over you, there you find the church at it’s best. You find God in the caring of the assembled Body. And also? You help others find the floor. To find a way down where the air is, where the healing is. They feel the soul-deep permission to admit their needs and their weaknesses.
I could stand for the closing song. My lungs had been filled and the tightness had eased and I could sing again.