Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. – John 16:19-22
Jesus is having a hard conversation with the disciples. They are confused about Jesus saying He is going away. I am sure from His follower’s perspective this seemed nonsensical. He was at the pinnacle of His earthly power and influence, healing and feeding sick and the lame, taking on the establishment religious leaders, and upsetting the Roman governors.
I suspect the disciples were perplexed by talk like “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Was He off for another stroll on the lake during a storm, perhaps another meander into the mountains to be transfigured, what was Jesus talking about?
Instead of explaining in concrete and specific terms Jesus paints a very personal picture of what the future will look like for His followers. Jesus explains “you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices”. There is a coming disturbing dissonance for these disciples. Their world will be turned upside down and they will weep. Weeping and tears have been a symbol for soul sickness many times before. Jesus is painting a picture here of a heart-wrenching soul sickness while others around are rejoicing and reveling in the very event that has made you ill. Jesus predicts a happy ending to this traumatic tale, “You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” He provides a powerful metaphor to make His point. One of the most traumatic yet joyous experiences imaginable – childbirth. I am not a woman so I may never fully understand and appreciate this metaphor the way my wife and other mothers can, but I was present during the birth of both of my daughters and I can attest to bring both traumatic and joyous both times.
Our oldest daughter took her time coming into this world and I know my wife was anxious for her arrival well before the event. We even resorted to driving on bumpy roads with the hopes that this might speed up the process. We did the Lamaze classes and I had my breathing down pat. I realized only after the fact that the breathing and training are actually probably more useful for distracting the father than helping the mother. It did distract me enough to prevent me from feinting and becoming a nuisance. After many hours of labor our daughter was born and it was indeed a joyous experience. Of course her birth was merely the beginning of lost binkies, sleepless nights, fevers and illness, and the many highs and lows which are all part of the journey.
Our second child came into the world quite a bit differently. She came on time and with a short labor in the middle of the night. We rushed to the hospital and I was not as practiced in my Lamaze technique the second time around. Both the doctor and I were a bit sleepy, but when our daughter arrived and had trouble breathing we all woke up pretty fast. After a brief but traumatic (for our daughter and her parents) stay in the neonatal ICU for an infection we were able to bring home our beautiful baby and begin our adventure with her as well. I gained a new respect and appreciation for nurses during our baby’s stay in the ICU. The nurses were amazing and we could not have navigated those turbulent waters without them.
So despite my maleness and lack of ability to actually experience giving birth to a child I think I can appreciate the spiritual squall that Jesus is talking about that is on the horizon for His followers and why He chose to use the analogy of childbirth. His time has come and He knows it will be really hard on those that love Him, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” I have asked my wife about this idea of forgetting the pain and she admits that it is a thing. She remembers the event but I think the joy overwhelms the pain. That is what Jesus is describing here. This amazing joy will come only after a very difficult road that He and His followers must walk.
The road to finding the savoir looks very different for everyone, just like the birth of my two daughters. I think what Jesus wants to reassure His followers, both those listening to Him here and all those that will come after like myself, is that no matter how hard or difficult things can get in this land of oblivion there is joy and new life to be found in Him. He is the waiting on the banks of the river ready to help all those who seek His help to cross.
Prayer: God thank You for the gift of new life both through our precious children and Your Son.