In the first chapter of Genesis, God looks upon all He has made and sees it is good. A week after giving birth I looked at my own body and struggled to agree with God’s assessment of creation.
I didn’t have a strong theology around my body and its significance to my faith; for most of my life, I’ve treated thought and feeling as the means by which God makes himself known. My postpartum state forced me to reckon with my beliefs around the purpose of my physical form, and around the Bible’s pronouncement that as a part of God’s creation, my body is profoundly good.
God Spoke to Me Through Giving Birth
Months before my daughter arrived, a friend had prayed for me to have a deep and transformative encounter with the Lord during my labor and the time that would follow. I received her words eagerly and prepared in the ways I knew how: I kept a prayer journal, meditated on Scriptures that held special meaning for me during pregnancy, packed my hospital bag with art prints that spoke to me of the creative nature of God, created a playlist of sacred music for the birthing room.
I’m accustomed to meeting God through practices that carry intellectual and emotional weight; I hoped that by steeping myself in these things, I could prepare for a birth that would be like the spiritual practices I was used to, full of the intellectual and emotional revelation I associate with a fruitful walk with the Lord.
When the time came to deliver our daughter, my labor seemed void of the kind of revelation I anticipated. My contractions began with such intensity that they wiped my mind clean of the spiritual focus I was determined to maintain. I could hardly form a coherent thought. The Scriptures I had meditated upon receded; the art prints and playlist went unused. As labor progressed I felt increasingly submerged in my body. I had enough presence of mind to wonder if the Lord was trying to convey something in these moments but finding me too lost in physical sensation to hear. When I did sense Him near, I felt Him encouraging me to abide in my body, for He would speak without words through everything I felt and experienced and make Himself known through the form he had given me.
Seeing the Body Through the Eyes of The Maker
In the aftermath of my daughter’s arrival, I wondered if I had heard correctly. I had never felt so physically ravaged, nor so dead to the ways in which I was accustomed to communing with God. I was overcome with love for our child, yet I wept and trembled daily with pain, still bleeding, nursing my stitches and inflamed with a fever that had swept over me after we left the hospital. I asked God why this suffering was necessary when labor had already been such a struggle, and couldn’t hear His answer in any way I recognized. The discomfort radiating from my body was like static that interrupted all the ways I knew to train myself on His voice.
I felt contempt for my body. I was surmounting one of the greatest challenges of my life in learning to care for a newborn daughter, and not only was my body weak and faltering, it was disrupting the conversation with God I had cultivated for years.
Here, I believe the Holy Spirit brought me to remember the Genesis narrative. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” It was a brief moment of clarity, but it halted me when I looked down at my body with disgust. It was as if God, knowing the accusations I was leveling against myself, came and shielded me from condemnation like He did on the cross, even when I acted as my own accuser. I believe the Holy Spirit then lent me a shift in perspective and brought me to see my body through the eyes of my Maker.
In the same way, I had marveled and given thanks, many times with tears, at my daughter’s body taking form within mine, the Lord had rejoiced as I grew in my mother’s womb. With knowledge of the path He set before me, He knit together a vessel that would carry me through the days He ordained and gave it to me as a gift, singular, unique and laden with His intention for my life. Indeed, it had shown His intentions—by gestating and birthing my child, being broken for her, nursing her with love both generous and sacrificial, my body had enabled the most visceral identification with Christ that I have ever experienced. If the days He ordained for me were meant for loving and laying down my life as He did, then truly, my body had faithfully carried me according to His purpose.
I know our bodies and our experiences of them are varied, but the principle I want to convey is this: In Genesis, God looks at His creation and sees that it is good, for it is the work of His hands and thus a reflection of His nature. However temporal or frail, bodies are not detritus to be shed in pursuit of a cerebral or emotional knowledge of God. They speak with their own eloquence about the Maker who formed them.
Whether we are being held in our mother’s wombs or embracing our children, we see in our bodies the story of how completely the Lord contains us, of how within Him, we live and move and have our being. Whether we are birthed or doing the birthing, we bear witness to the value God places on a human life, for each body arrives in a torrent of blood and water, echoing the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. Whether we are nourished in infancy or administering the nourishment, we glimpse the generous love of God, which bears forth life from a broken body, and invites us to eat and drink of him without cost. Bodies are not peripheral to our faith.
A year after giving birth I think about the opening verses of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (verses 1-4).
On the many days I find myself immersed in the physical, repetitive tasks of new motherhood, I resist the pull to feel frustrated when I cannot return to the things I used to do. One day I will journal again, read with frequency or worship at length, but right now my communion with God consists of abiding in one body while caring for another. The psalmist says creation reveals knowledge; my current spiritual practice is an exercise in listening to the declarations spoken forth by my own body and by my daughter’s. I am learning a new language for speaking and hearing from the Lord, and it is different, but it is surely good.