In the twelve years since my first pregnancy, the small miracles and thrilling firsts have faded to simple, warm recollections of a season that has come and gone. I do remember, though, the strange paradox of knowing early on that I was pregnant but not looking or feeling different. It’s a bit mind-bending to know something unseen exists, is happening, and is changing you, but you can’t see it or trace it with your fingers yet. As the months progressed, I began feeling tiny flutters that morphed into stronger kicks and rolls, more urgent and frequent trips to the bathroom, and an ever-expanding belly. Nine months later, a beautiful baby was born. I traced my fingers over his ears and mouth and nose again and again as we tried to decide who he looked like.
In a world focused on what we can see and touch and prove, we struggle to refocus our souls on the unseen. In pregnancy, we often want to rush to the finale, where we get to see and hold our babies. But there’s beauty and wonder in those nine intervening months of an unseen, slowly unfolding mystery. How much more so with our faith? Dane Ortlund’s book Gentle and Lowly has been a catalyst for turning my gaze to perhaps one of the most unseen aspects of our faith: Jesus’s heart. Evangelicalism often asks us if we’ve let Jesus into our hearts. But what do we know of his heart? Ortlund writes, “It is Christ’s gentle heart that adorns him with beauty . . . what most deeply attracts us to Christ is his gentle, tender, humble heart” (96-97).
When I think of the world—its chaos and disorder and discord—Christ’s “gentle, tender, humble heart” is a beautiful balm. But because I cannot see it, because I cannot trace my fingers around its shape and form, I’m apt to forget it. A few short years ago, I was mired in sadness during a season of immense difficulty. I felt suffocated by deep aloneness. I was despondent. I’m not sure there’s ever been a season where I felt more like a stranger to God than then. What I failed to see in my pain was that my own sadness “was endured by [Jesus] in the past and [was also] shouldered by him” in that season of suffering (Ortlund 48). Ortlund reminded me that Jesus’s heart, his very nature, compelled him to be with me in my pain and bear the weight of my deep darkness. I only failed to see him as the pain crowded out my vision.
As I read Ortlund’s words recently, a great clarity pierced my heart. I closed my eyes to meditate on the truth of Jesus’s gentle and lowly heart, and I saw myself sitting, head bent and cradled between my knees, feeling the palpable sadness and darkness that had enveloped me. I experienced that season of suffering almost as if I had been transported straight back into its gritty reality. I saw in my mind’s eye only what I had felt so keenly in my spirit during that season of grief. And then, I saw him. Sitting close to me. I sensed the tangible reality of his love pushing out the darkness and enveloping me. Despite what I could not feel then, I saw that he had been sustaining me with his presence.