A Midwife of Ideas

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Giving birth should be your greatest achievement not your greatest fear.” -Jane Weideman

I’m a bit perplexed — perhaps even unsettled — about why the word picture of a midwife remains so striking to me. I’m not even the right gender, nor do I have any children. Yet for some reason the metaphor has stuck ever since first hearing it on a road trip.

My wife Lindsay and I recently set out to join the extended family for a weekend of fishing, boating, and swimming. With several hours to pass, my wife hit up the local library for a few audio books and started with Discover Your Genius by Michael J. Gelb. It’s a book intended to motivate the creative drive of the listener/reader by pulling out insights from some of the greatest “geniuses” in history.

In the very beginning, as Gelb is describing Socrates and Plato and their continuing influence on the world, a passage jumped out at me and has remained with me ever since. Gelb says that that Socrates thought of himself as “a midwife of ideas.”

Amazing. A midwife of ideas.

I created a mental bookmark knowing that I would need to reflect on and eventually flesh out why the phrase was so compelling to me. Yet it remained an incomplete word picture until speaking with a friend who actually works as a midwife herself. I was so driven by the phrase that I asked her for some perspective on the beauty of her job and why she chose the profession.

“The word ‘midwife’ actually means ‘with woman’,” she explained. “For me that sums it up. I am able to come alongside a family in the most beautiful yet fragile moments and be a part of a major point of transformation in their lives. I can speak to their physical, emotional, and spiritual health in those moments and encourage the birth of something beautiful. I love my job!”

Not only did I leave the conversation with a deeper appreciation for the role of a midwife, but I suddenly understood with much greater clarity why my heart leaped when I first heard that phrase from the audiobook. While an actual midwife is gender-specific, tied to a particular life-stage, the analogy fits for everyone with a dream that’s yet to become an expressed reality, an idea without proper formation, or potential not quite realized. Within a few words, Socrates states with simple accuracy the role we all play as co-creators calling forth a good creation from the void.

It is my role to play midwife to the God-given ideas that come to me. It is my role to speak life to them, to create an atmosphere where transformation can take place and where the birth of a new thing is the end result. Entrusted to me, and to the community I am a part of, is the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the idea that I am pregnant with.

I’ve recently switched jobs, stepping down from a long-term ministry position to enter into a time of writing. It was purposeful, coming after years of telling close friends and family members of the numerous ideas I felt brewing inside me. These were the folks cheering me on as we made the transition that allowed me to write full-time. Yet, I’ve quickly realized that making such a transition doesn’t ensure that the idea will come to fruition.

Instead the shift in vocation was only the beginning of a long series of moves I must continue to make. Attending to the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of my own self and those closest to me will help to facilitate the writing before me. I must attend to the discipline of the craft, write when I do not feel like it, and nourish my understanding by taking in the beautiful words of others, all of which were once unborn ideas.

Profile photo of Matt Conner

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


6 Comments

  1. Peter

    Excellent and compelling. I am presently traveling in the journey of my first novel and this word picture meshes precisely with what I want to accomplish. To write a story that embraces truth, compassion, and the integrity of the human spirit, I realize I must embrace a lifestyle, not merely a side hobby. Good words, sir.

  2. Dan Kulp

    This greatly reminds me of Chesterton (big shocker): “A woman loses a child even in having a child. All creation is separation. Birth is as solemn a parting as death.

    It was the prime philosophic principle of Christianity that this divorce in the divine act of making (such as severs the poet from the poem or the mother from the new-born child) was the true description of the act whereby the absolute energy made the world. According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.” Orthodoxy Ch.5

  3. Anissa

    What a beautiful metaphor! I’m preparing to write my undergraduate senior thesis and I have a hunch it will take a great deal of nourishment and cultivation, pain and joy. Thanks for the reminder that the creative process is a complete labor of love.

  4. Scott Richardson

    Are we midwives to the ideas that God implants within us, or are we the birth moms themselves? Or perhaps both?

    The idea of being impregnated with an idea by the God who made the universe strikes me as being even more intimate … and means that I’m not just called to bring the idea to life (and then walk away, no further commitment), but called to nurture the idea, feed it, birth it, then nourish it, watch it grow, encourage it, champion it, promote it, and watch it fly. Then stand back in wonder at what God accomplishes through HIS child, born of our collaboration.

    Looking forward to hanging out with you at Hutchmoot, Matt — we met several years ago at Mercy House when our daughter was first checking out Anderson University (she’s a senior nursing student now). As a dad of two daughters, I’m constantly struck at how LONG the job of parenting is … I will ALWAYS be my girls’ dad. The midwives who helped my wife give birth are just distant memories now (they were SUPER important for a season, to be sure!). But Mom and Dad are always Mom and Dad …

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