The prayer that got me through the toughest part of my labor with my first baby was – quite unexpectedly – part of the prayer of the breastplate of St. Patrick.
I say unexpectedly for two reasons. First, it entered the delivery room via a text from a mother, which is a modern marvel in itself (both texting and the fact that my mom has been converted to its ways; only LOL can capture this completely).
Second, it was a prayer that I was familiar with but never felt any particular affinity for. Yes, it was a lovely prayer; yes, it came from my Irish heritage.
But I was blown away by how perfectly it spoke to me in that moment of helplessness, of needing to know I was being held by something – by Someone – stronger than myself.
I discovered a beautiful video that the Jesuits created with the complete prayer of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, but below are the words that I made my husband read and reread to me during my labor.
The surroundness of Christ has perhaps never been as real or as strong as it was for me in that moment.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Recently I happened upon a passage in John’s Gospel that stopped me in my tracks: again, a familiar passage that I had never read so personally or poignantly. Jesus speaks of the pain of childbirth in a real and intimate way. He even compares the laboring woman to his wondering followers – probably to the shock of more than a few men in his company!
But what struck me most about this passage was what it says about Incarnation: that Jesus knew and experienced the fullness of what it means to be human. Somehow, mysteriously, that could have included the experience of birth and the pains of labor. The closeness of God and the knowingness of Christ remain mysteries to us all.
So I read these words today as yet another reminder that Christ is our closest companion, whether we are male or female, whether we labor in delivery rooms or at office desks or under the hot summer sun.
Behind us, before us, beside us, beneath us. We will have pain, but our pain will turn to joy.
And no one will take our joy from us.
Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, ‘
Are you discussing among yourselves what I meant when I said,
“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”?’
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice;
you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.
When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come.
But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish
because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.
So you have pain now; but I will see you again,
and you hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
(John 16: 19-22)
Check out the other posts in this series: