There was a bucket of electric bouncy balls, not a baby, in my stomach. He just never stopped moving. Usually the jabs and kicks gave me comfort — “Call the doctor if you haven’t felt the baby move in a while,” they say. I had no reason to pick up the phone, so instead I came up with one that would keep me up all night.
“I wonder why he moves so much,” I said to my husband before bed. As he reached for the lights, I grabbed my phone. What does it mean if your baby moves a lot? I typed into Google. My stomach dropped as I read the first result: “High Fetal Movement Associated with Stillbirth.”
Like I said, I didn’t sleep that night.
Psalms and Search Engines
I wonder how many twenty-first-century tech-saturated Christian mothers, like myself, abide by their own translation of Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything let your requests be made known to Google.” When we remove prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and — above all — God from the equation, we forfeit all chance of experiencing any lasting end to our motherly anxiety. We cannot type, scroll, click, and read our way to peace. There is no “peace of Google,” only the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). And for that, we must pray.
Which can be quite difficult for expectant mothers to do. Burdened for the children we cannot hold but deeply love, our minds tend to tumble down hypothetical rabbit holes: “How long has it been since the baby kicked? Shouldn’t the kicks be harder? Is the baby really growing? Am I eating enough? How much should I be eating?” Pounding heart, tight lips, it seems far easier to search, our fingers frantic, than to seek God in prayer.
That’s where the book of Psalms comes in. For millennia, restless saints have fled to its pages. When we lack our own words, enough calm, or even the desire to pray, the Psalms hand us hundreds of ways to talk to God. Consider, for example, how an anxious expectant mother might use Psalm 139 to pray for herself and her unborn child.
Because of the sheer fact that we cannot see our unborn babies, we often imagine what could be wrong. With the help of Psalm 139, we can turn from anxiety to adoration. King David’s words call us to wonder, rather than worry, over what man cannot see, as we praise God that his eyes keep watch over the children in our womb.
In the spirit of the psalm, we can begin by focusing on God’s omniscience over our blindness. “O Lord,” we might pray, “you have searched and known not only me, but also my child. You know when I sit; you know when my child stirs. You are acquainted with all our ways, from the words I will say soon, to the organ that will form next. In a word, your hand is upon us” (verses 1–5). What is dark to mothers — the womb, our unborn children, what lies ahead — is light to him (verse 12). Anxious about what we cannot see, we can adore the God who never stops seeing.
Nor has he ever not seen. His knowledge of our unborn children never began; it has always been: “Your eyes saw this child’s unformed substance an eternity before the pregnancy test came back positive. No part of this process has ever been hidden from your sight” (verses 15–16). As we say these words to our all-seeing God, we send them coursing through our unseeing selves. Wonder is a great antidote to worry.
‘You Are Sovereign’
Not only does God see what goes on within our stomachs and lives; he sovereignly oversees it all. We know we cannot watch our unborn babies grow, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking we can control our pregnancy, at least in some measure. That’s why we often flit from one search to the next — for control. We can praise God for so much access to life-sustaining information (it’s probably wise not to eat raw fish if every health institute says so), but we must not deceive ourselves. While we carry our children, God is in control of them.
Psalm 139 offers a fitting reminder, as David attributes action upon action, outcome upon outcome, to God alone. With David we declare, “You form this child’s inward parts; you knit this baby together in my womb. I praise you for the fearful and wonderful works of pregnancy. You are making and weaving this little person together” (verses 13–15). A pregnant mother can attend to the atoms in her unborn baby’s body no more than she can touch the moon — thankfully. We have not the power to form, to knit, to make, to weave. But our God does, and we have his ear.
What’s more, David affirms how God forms both bodies and days. Before the foundation of the world, God not only chose to create our children, but he determined the length of their lives. Through prayer we say to God and ourselves, “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for this baby” (verse 16).
God didn’t pen our children’s stories into a dusty three-ring notebook, the kind that are always lying around, and then slam it shut. David says, “In your book were written.” Expectant mothers, our Father has a book! He is ever aware of its tales, of the lives of our unborn children (and everyone else). For what he has written, he will bring to pass. Whatever this trimester may hold, may our prayers lean into the sovereign God who holds it.
‘You Are There’
By this point, it’s easy to agree with David about the extent of God’s knowledge and power. His attributes are “too wonderful for [us],” too “high” to grasp and grip (verse 6). At the same time, Psalm 139 encourages mothers to rest assured that he is with us, in all his great and mysterious perfections.
David teaches us this lesson by taking us on a trip around the universe. He imagines himself up in heaven and down in Sheol (verse 8), east as the sunrise and west as the seas (verse 9). In each place, he finds God there. Amazingly, the Lord does not arrive after David, but leads David there himself (verse 10).
After David’s example, we can imagine ourselves walking through a hundred different high and low points of pregnancy (an exercise that may run our emotions through a pinball machine). Picture a doctor gesturing at a dot of flashing white, tears of joy springing to our eyes. There’s a heartbeat. A month later, that heartbeat seems too low, even inconsistent. We cry again, this time for fear.
Step back from each hypothetical. Turn to God and say, “During ultrasounds, you are there! Through worry-ridden nights, you are there! In the hospital room, you are there! Come what may, you are with me wherever I go, leading me, guiding me, holding me” (verse 8). As we praise his presence, his presence comforts us.
‘Protect This Child’
Toward the end of the psalm, after David has adored the all-seeing, sovereign God who is in his midst, he turns to petition, earnestly pleading for God to act (verses 19–22). Confident that God is over his life, he asks God to intervene in his life. In the same way, the more a mother recalls the power of God both to take and to give life, the more she will ask God to protect the child in her womb.
We pray confidently for God to protect our unborn children because we are confident that he can protect them. We ask him to decrease blood pressure, to increase growth, to remove hemorrhages, to induce labor — all because he can. And so we pray, with every mother’s blood-earnestness and a Christian mother’s confidence, “Oh that you would protect this child, O God!”
He delights in a mother’s pleas for her unborn child, which are themselves expressions of worship. We petition him because we know he is with us, listening to our cries. We petition him because we know that only an all-knowing, all-powerful God is able to sustain the babies in our bellies. We petition him because we know he loves those babies, more than we could understand.
Ought God’s thoughts about this pregnancy, then, be more precious to us than Google’s (verse 17)? A single search may produce 239,000,000 results (I just checked), but even that number has an end, a limit, a boundary. God’s knowledge is infinite, vaster than the sands on every shore (verse 18). His power, presence, and ability to protect likewise know no end. And — can you believe it? — this God is with us.