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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Labor With Hope" (Gloria Furman)

TITLE: Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
AUTHOR: Gloria Furman
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (160 pages).

Brother Lawrence taught us about the spirituality of practicing the presence of God. Paul Stevens and others promote the spirituality of work and the marketplace. Mike Mason shows us spirituality of practicing the presence of people. Seminarians remind us about the spirituality of study and research. What about the spirituality of childbirth? Gloria Furman advocates the following: "Jesus has everything to do with everything, including our spiritual nourishment in pregnancy and childbirth." In this book, she not only describes the spiritual connection in the present, she also shows us how these "point us to eternal realities." These two aspects are expressed in every chapter. From the creative narrative in Genesis, Furman shows us how the human procreation act is derived from God's creative initiative. Men and women are image bearers of God, and children born are image bearers of their parents as well. All of us are called to be fruitful and multiply for this is the very character of God. Fertility reminds us of fruitfulness and how our endeavours point us to God's glory that is to come. On childbirth pains, we learn from Scripture that it is because of the curse of sin. When God said "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing," we learn that it is not restricted to simply the birth moment. It is a part of the whole area of judgment because of sin. More importantly, it tells us our need for a savior. This is where the title of the book describes this paradox: Labouring in pain without losing hope. While recognizing the reality of pain, Furman also shows us the significance of hope. Like babies, we cannot deliver ourselves. In parenting, we learn how tough it is to bring up children. Even as we grapple with the seriousness of sin and evil, we also see the power of the gospel to deliver us from sin and death. Forgiveness through the gospel stretches far and wide, even to those who had undergone abortion.

There are several other issues that the author pulls in when dealing with the subject of childbirth. She mentions the sacrificial love of the mother; the various biblical passages with regard to childbirth; motherhood; meaning of "saved through childbearing"; "born of a woman," etc. For the sake of their children, mothers would do all they can to provide for them. With abortion becoming commonplace, and the non-critical ease of assuming abortion is a normal act, she contrasts human impatience in terminating life with God's patience in giving us opportunities to repent. On the other side of abortion, there is the occasional painful choice of some mothers who chose to die so that the child may live. The gospel reminds us of Jesus who did the very same thing, to die on the cross that we may live. Furman briefly explores theological topics such as foreknowledge, salvation, resurrection, election, creation, faith, hope, and others.

My Thoughts
This book is about gospel meditations and Furman does exactly that with a balanced treatment of both the process of childbearing as well as theological reflections. She starts with a Bible reference for each chapter, reflects on that verse and connects the motherhood theme with theological truths for Christian living. At times, the book feels more like a Bible study session rather than a chapter on motherhood or childbearing. For that reason, I feel that this book is more a devotional with the childbearing theme. She deals with two themes quite comprehensively. The first is that of pain in which she helps those in pain understand that it is only temporary. Hang on to hope and look forward to the future deliverance and joy. Labour cannot be rushed. Likewise, hope cannot be rushed. We need to wait. This book aids in the waiting process. There are many instances of pain: "hormonal imbalances, fertility issues, miscarriages, pregnancy complications, menstrual pain, stillbirth, menopause, and maternal death." These are situations in which women need to be pointed to hope amid the suffering. Never underestimate the pain. Never make light of the power of hope as well. Helen Keller once wrote: "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

The second theme is trust in God. Page after page, she references Scripture to show us that God is always with us. We need to trust in His Word. For those in labour, this is particularly relevant as pain and birth tend to distract us from everything else, including our focus on God. Furman continually reminds all of us not to trust birth but to trust God alone.

My takeaway is this. Hope is larger than pain. Faith in God is better than fear. With childbearing as one of the most profound pain ever experienced by a person, we learn that we are never alone. Mothers could feel most alone in their pain, regardless of how many people are by their side. This meditation on the gospel truths and the presence of God through all of our times would bring much comfort. Furman not only deals with the direct expressions of hope, she also takes us on a journey to recognize the folly of a life without hope. Both are essentially the same thing seen from different angles.

Parents or parents to be would appreciate such a book and the biblical meditations on the themes of motherhood, childbirth, pain, and labour difficulties.

Gloria Furman is the author of "Missional Motherhood" and "The Pastor's Wife." She is a wife, a mother of four, and a cross-cultural worker. She blogs at www.gloriafurman.com.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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