Any woman who’s ever been visibly pregnant knows that her baby bump is an invitation. Whether she likes it or not, friends and strangers alike regard the bump as a signal. It alters the laws of social interaction, eliminating the concept of personal space surrounding the protruding area. The bump also elicits a flood of commentary on one’s personal appearance, amount of weight gain, parenting preferences, and – my personal favorite – unsolicited delivery horror stories.
During both of my previous pregnancies, I remember being shocked and amused by the kinds of things people felt entitled to say about my body. Its size and shape were suddenly and without my permission socially appropriate topics of conversation for all manners of acquaintance. People told me how huge I was, how fat I was, how much bigger I was than my first pregnancy. One student shoved a basketball under his shirt and said, “Look, Mrs. S, we’re twins!”.
For the most part, I tried to respond gracefully, to store up the most atrocious comments as amusing anecdotes, battle stories to trade with other moms. I shielded myself from the most hurtful comments by reminding myself how little these words reflected on me and much more so on poor judgement of those who proffered them.
As I approach my ninth week of pregnancy with my third child, bump already springing joyfully into place, I feel invited to a different approach. People say stupid things, and they reach out when they should keep their hands to themselves. But the point, really, is that they are reaching out.
Human beings hunger for connection. At the core of our identities, we are relational beings. We come into the world dependent upon others. Much of the spiritual life is the gradual acceptance of the reality that, despite all appearances, our dependence on one another remains. Love is built on connection – recognizing it, seeking it, fostering it. Real identity, true joy, the meaning of life – all of these are found only by surrendering ourselves to the vulnerable plain of connection.
I am coming to see pregnancy more clearly as a ministry of connection. As I learn to set my wounded ego aside, to seek instead to serve the heart and need of the person reaching out, my prayers of exasperation are slowly becoming prayers of gratitude. Thanks, God, I used to pray, Being pregnant isn’t hard enough, but I also have to patiently bear the cruelty of thoughtless words?
It’s tempting to demand that others fix their behavior, to adopt kinder and more appropriate speech. That’s certainly the call of the culture. The problem with that approach is that is not the call of gospel. Faithfulness to Jesus is less about accusing others, and more about examining ourselves. We are not called to remake the world in our image. We are called to rediscover and uncover the image of God in ourselves. We are called to conversion and a life of virtue that frees us to live out that identity more fully. The point is not to fix everyone else. The point is to love them.
As I surrender my bitterness and lay down my sarcasm and cynicism, in their place bloom gratitude and wonder: Not only do I have the privilege of imitating Your Son in the literal giving of my body and blood to bring new life into the world, but also the gift of so many reaching out to me for connection. Whatever the words that are spoken, however their meaning might sting, God’s invitation is to set that aside for something greater – the opportunity to love the one who speaks them. I cannot know their hearts, but by the very fact of their speaking, they invite me to notice and to love them. Jesus invites me to notice and to love them. Who am I to say no?