It started like a subtle uneasiness, bubbling somewhere between my bulging belly and my disappearing collarbone. I am not nervous, exactly. Lost, treading, hidden, furrowed, heavy… but not exactly nervous. Whatever it is beats in the blood stretching out toward my fingertips.
“I am alive,” this baby reminds me with a flutter. I watch the rise and the fall, the ebb and the flow of the new life hidden in me that is starting to hide my toes when I look down. It must be so dark in there, like the sea or outer space or the deep underground. Someone once told me that my emotional state affects the babies I carry. But then, I was pregnant in grief and birthed a joy child. So, even if this baby is perceiving my emotional waves or my pregnant negligence, there must still be hope.
Can this baby feel my strange worry, hovering just above the first home God is building around his/her life? Or maybe the refuge inside this womb is absolute – a formidable, soft fortress against whatever ails me on this side of birth.
“By the way, you are evil. That is half the gospel. That’s half the gospel, you are nothing.” – Tim Keller
Um, thanks Keller. That’s like one of those demotivational posters, but way worse. I need affirmation and approval and good vibes. The antidote to strange worry, I am almost certain, is not a giant wa-wa-wa.
Baby is twirling now. Oh, little one – does your home feel like a safe place to dance? And swim? And dream? And be? Do you feel like you are nothing inside there? Does the whole or the half of the gospel reach you?
Do you have my heart condition already – the one where you constantly need approval and good vibes only? In a talk on Galatians 6, Keller calls this heart condition “empty of glory,” which is to be desperate for recognition and affirmation. Because, according to Romans 1 and 2, deep down we know we were made to serve and honor God and nothing else.
It seems unreasonable for the baby inside me to be empty of glory while also being so close to it, knitted and formed and covered by Glory Himself. But then, I guess, the knowing is knitted in, too. We don’t begin to know we were made to serve and honor God. It’s a knowing that’s just there like blood and cells, I guess.
Imprinted on us, between the DNA and eternity, is a knowing that God is full of glory and we are empty of it.
But back to that demotivational, half-gospel before pregnancy brain unravels me completely. I am nothing – disappearing dust, withering grass, a whole year of my life passes like a sigh (Psalm 90).
And I feel the dissonance. It is 6 am and I am hungry. My body is growing in mass around this baby. All the cells on top of cells amount to something or my eyes and all my clothes are playing bad tricks. Also, this strange worry. Something chemical or physical or emotional or maternal is making my brain and my heart crazy. It is not nothing.
Galatians 6:3, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
So, I guess this is different – this nothingness. At the root of things, deep in the underground of it, I want to know who I am and (maybe more) that who I am is important. And, in this particular moment, I want to be seen and recognized and known for all the complicated, strange worry that I cannot explain. I am not even sure how to ask for this kind of knowing – for something to crawl into the space between belly and collarbone and sort it all out.
“Nothing will heal your heart except God looking at you and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” Keller says. We are wired to want to hear those words. And not just from a Prime Minister or the Pope or Bey. We are wired to desperately want to hear those words from our Creator because His approval upon us matters more than anything else. And in our sinful search to find approval, fill the empty glory, and feel that we matter, we see a distorted view of creation. Our eyes are too clouded to see the people who need care.
Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
I can’t see to serve the toddling dancer who just dunked her cookie in milk before leaving it in a mess on the plate. I have no vision for friends and neighbors, each with bodies full of burdens, and even my husband fades behind my need. I cannot fulfill the law of Christ – to lay down my life for others. I cannot serve because I am in the middle of a constant search for who I am, hoping that who I am is important.
I still can’t find the words for this worry, but (praise Jesus) the words, the whole words, of the Gospel have found me.
And it is offensive. It is offensive to everyone, because everyone is empty and looking to be filled. Everyone is looking for affirmation – assurance that we are something and something important. Ideally, we want this kind of affirmation without God getting involved. We want to be so much something that we have enough to give away. But not a single person, even the most generous, has enough substance to serve out of abundance instead of need.
And Jesus. And the cross. The Gospel uncovers all the ways we look for recognition and approval in other things, but then it offers Jesus – our only hope of feeling the full approval we were designed to crave. Because, in Christ and “at the heart of creation and redemption,” says Keller, is Jesus saying “my life for yours.” At the cross, He embodied love in sacrifice. And, in Christ alone, we see past our need to be something so that we can offer all of who Christ is to the people around us. Real abundance.
Is this strange worry a tangled mess of approval seeking madness? I actually have no idea. But I do know that it is my human heart condition to swim inside it – to let it define, even a little bit, who I am right now and what I need. It is human to convince myself that, because I can’t explain it, it is incurable and requires endless and special attention.
There is no darkness – anywhere – that is resistant to the light of Truth. The cross makes the midnight shine like noonday (Psalm 139). It anchors my identity outside today’s strange worry and enables me to offer abundance when I am completely empty. The cross is my only boast and battle cry, because apart from it I am nothing.