By Tilly Dillehay
“It’ll hit you like a train,” they’ve told me. “When it begins, you’ll know.”
“Nothing in your life will feel like a more inevitable or intense an experience,” others have said. “And you’ll understand as it’s happening that there is only one way out—forward.”
“It’s like trying to take your bottom lip and stretch it over your head,” said one helpful person.
“It’s like somebody has a hold of each of your hips and is trying to rip them apart,” said another.
“It’s a good, clean, pain, like a sports injury,” said someone else.
There was a really great children’s book I used to read, growing up: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen. In it, a family encounters a series of obstacles while going (for some reason) on a bear hunt.
We’re going on bear hunt
We’re going to catch a big one
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared
A big, dark forest
We can’t go over it
We can’t go under it
Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!
This is what the experience of childbirth sounds like, as told me by multiple serious-minded women. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!
But here I am, five days past a due date, and I still don’t understand the meaning of all these words. I still haven’t experienced the bear hunt. I still haven’t tried to get my bottom lip over my head. I should have had this experience already, but instead I’ve spent the last three weeks or so as a lady in waiting.
It’s a very strange way to live.
It’s truly bizarre, to know that something this big is coming at you. You know neither the day nor the hour, and so you wake up each morning in a confusion of excitement and trepidation.
And then yesterday I woke up in a sweat, thinking about that terrible verse in 1 Thessalonians: “While people are saying ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.’ (5:3)”
What a terrible thing to ask of anybody, I thought to myself.
To live this way, all the time? To be waking up in this kind of uncertainty, every day, thinking ‘this could be it!’ and experiencing all that manic excitement and trepidation over and over? And then finding yourself coming to the end of another week, another year, another decade, and still these colossal events haven’t come to pass?
How can He ask it of us? In Matthew 24, Jesus gives basically the same set of warnings that Paul gives later, and then he says “but concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” He compares the suddenness of events to Noah’s flood instead of labor pains striking. The analogy is the same:
You don’t know when it’s coming, so stop trying to find out when it’s coming—just be ready.
I’m currently living in a real-time illustration of what Jesus has told us about his own return. Right now, I know exactly what it’s like to be told this every day… by medical practitioners, friends, family members: “You don’t know when it’s coming, so stop trying to find out when it’s coming—just be ready.”
It’s hard; that’s all there is to it.
It’s hard to be expected to live in this kind of uncertainty. It seems unnecessarily cruel, when I imagine the scores of Christians throughout history who have lived faithfully under this kind of uncertainty—marrying, working, bearing, worshiping, eating, and drinking—never knowing when the Savior would come.
But I’m looking around my house now, late in the morning, and recognizing at least one strong benefit to the uncertainty of waiting.
My house is clean. My freezer is stocked. I’m more on top of my laundry than ever before—because who wants to be caught with three unfinished loads? My mother will be following me home after the baby’s born—do I want her to find a bathroom that looks like it’s been untouched for three weeks? The baby’s room is swept, arranged. Her things are tucked carefully into drawers; there are blankets hanging near her bed. Continually, my husband and I are taking every evening together with verve and enjoyment, cherishing our last days (or hours, or minutes!) together as just-the-two-of-us.
These times are sweeter, because we are staying ready. I am more diligent, because I am staying ready. I’m intentionally and actively being healthy, staying rested, looking to the ways of my house, and visiting friends who I might not see in a while… because I am staying ready.
This is the effect of not knowing the day or the hour, when it’s working correctly.
It keeps us awake. It keeps us active. It keeps us savoring and pressing because we don’t want to be caught lying down on the job of discipleship.
So here I am: going for long walks, eating Eggplant Parmesan, and counting the hours. Yes, I’m still hoping that my present illustrative waiting will be over soon. But there’s a bright side: I think I’m grasping this Big Wait concept just a little more clearly because of it.
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
-1 Thess. 5:1-6