I am not, by anyone's definition, an overachiever. While I like (mostly just making) To-Do lists, I'm equally happy to toss them out to spend the afternoon smelling roses. In a world of type-A do-ers, I'm a very self-satisfied type-B . . . well, be-er.
At least, so I thought, until my ability to "do" instead of "be" was suddenly and completely curtailed by a very, very small human being.
Just a few weeks after finding out we were pregnant with our first child, a dull, deep pain started to radiate from my abdomen outward. It wasn't much to complain about but, night after night, it kept me from sleeping. I felt dazed and exhausted. Then there came nausea . . . oh, the nausea! Besides no desire to eat at all, what little I could eat was quick to reappear. I began losing first one, then two, meals a day. The weakness from vomiting added to a more general weakness that made me feel short of breath and likely to cry at any moment.
I couldn't sit up, much less stand, for any reasonable amount of time. I had to take a break from my teaching job. I was so sick, I feared I was not pregnant at all but had severe stomach flu (despite several pregnancy tests and doctors, it took hearing that squishy-sounding heartbeat over the fetal doppler to finally convince me otherwise).
My husband, now the sole breadwinner, soon became the sole housecleaner, dishwasher, shopper and cook -- tasks he tackled with tenderhearted charisma. But I felt like a failure. This was pregnancy! It's supposed to come naturally. Right?
One hard thing about having a difficult pregnancy was that pregnancy is not hard for everyone. When I searched Google for stories I could resonate with, all I got were sound bites of a Kardashian sister complaining about the difficulty of finding good maternity styles, and Hilary Duff's pregnant bikini-selfie about how her "big belly" lowered her self-esteem (spoiler alert: she looked amazing).
But I think all of us (perhaps not the Kardashians) will have those times in life when things that come easily for others will be immeasurably difficult for us, or even impossible. When we set our hearts on something, and fail.
When Daniel and I got married, there were medical issues that made us believe we would have difficulty conceiving. We didn't, but a few months after getting pregnant, we met a couple who had been trying for over a year without success. The grief and pain they experienced sitting through baby showers and walking by parks was something they had never expected, just like the trial of the 1st trimester was something we hadn't.
Before getting married, I watched as one after another of my friends married their childhood, or high school, or college sweetheart, while every guy I dated was an obvious dud. I often wondered why what seemed so easy for some people was so hard for me. These kinds of disappointments come in many forms: career losses, injuries, chronic illness, anytime life just doesn't turn out the way we thought it would.
Struggling at something hard is one thing. Struggling at something others accomplish with ease is another. But struggling at something you never imagined would be difficult can make you question yourself -- and even question God.
We're so obsessed with success in modern culture. We crowd around successful people like we might catch the virus if they sneeze, and we keep our distance from failure as if it were equally contagious.
Unwittingly, we can attribute this same bias to God. We believe that success and ease in this life are demonstrations of His favour and presence. When we fail or struggle, we feel like He has abandoned us. But God is not like us. He chooses to be close to those who are suffering.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and humble of spirit" (Isaiah 57:15).
In the past few years, as I've gone through the hardest things I've ever experienced before -- failures and disappointments, broken relationships and unexpected difficulties -- I've learned something about God. He can be something for me in those moments of trial, struggle, and loss that He could never be for me in moments of success or triumph.
I don't believe that God causes suffering in our lives. Suffering comes because we live in this world (John 16:33), and because this world is still very much under the rule of the Evil One, who lives to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). When Paul suffered his own "thorn in the flesh" he recognised it for what it was -- "a messenger from Satan" (2 Corinthians 12:7).
But God spoke to him, and He says the same thing to you and me when our weakness and insufficiency overwhelm us,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When I am weak, all that space that used to be filled by my ego and ambition is, instead, filled up by grace. I can be unable to get out of bed and still be wildly successful in God's eyes -- but it took not being able to get out of bed for weeks on end for me to realise this. It took failing in my own eyes to understand success through God's eyes.
On most days, it's still a struggle to see my experience through God's eyes. I still wake up and all I want is for the pain to go away, my body to stop rejecting food, and this baby to be born safely (and as soon as possible).
In my heart, I know that a hard pregnancy is a far cry from failure. Participating with God as He creates life is one of the most difficult things we can do, and one of the most worth-while.
And I continue to find myself surrounded by His grace. I see it in the diligent self-sacrifice of my husband. I hear it in the encouragement of friends, who remind me what this is all about. I feel it in the life that continues to grow inside me -- the perfect demonstration of His power at work in my weakness.