I’ve been asked to speak at my church about tough things that have shaped my journey and view of God. Infertility (in addition to cancer journeys with my immediate family and in-laws) has been that for me. Because churches tend to not know what to do with infertility or how to talk about it, I’m planning to be brave and share my journey. To that end, I’m working here on my preliminary understanding of how God intersects with my infertility journey.
Reading Job for class this past weekend has been the most helpful thing for me so far in this infertility journey. It has helped me to name some elements of my situation.
It’s been almost 7 years since J and I started to try to have kids, or more accurately 82 months. 82 months with four positive pregnancy tests; of those four positive pregnancy tests, three ended in miscarriage and one with surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy. In the last 20 months, I’ve had three separate surgeries: one in spring of 2012 to remove a polyp, one in fall of 2012 to remove a cyst that the doctors also thought might have endometriosis or cancerous tissue attached (grateful that it was just a regular cyst, no additional troublesome problems), and one in August 2013 to remove my left fallopian tube and an ectopic pregnancy. And in all this, J and I are normal, healthy individuals; medically, there’s no reason why things aren’t working out for us in this area. We’re left grieving, but without explanations why.
For me, part of my problem as I interact with God on this infertility journey is that the biblical story that connects with infertility is often not helpful for me. In the cases of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, their infertility is used to heighten something that God is going to do in the bigger biblical story, and they have a positive end result. In the case of Hannah, I am so tempted to look at her story in 1 Samuel 1 as a sort of magic solution; if I just do what she did, pray as she did, then presto, we’ll have kids. And thereby, I miss the actual point of the story, and find more ways to heap recriminations upon myself as I endeavor to manipulate God. This is not to say that there’s not value or comfort in Hannah’s story for my situation, but my mind jumps to magic; I’m more prone to want a fix than emotional resonance. In other cases, like Michal, her barrenness is attributed as a judgment from God.
And in the above examples, I feel like my story doesn’t easily resonate with the biblical stories that people want to throw out as hopeful or helpful. However, with Job, I feel like finally I get something helpful. I don’t have to know why this is happening (and really am unable to grasp “why”), and I don’t get simplistic explanations for my situation.
After the ectopic pregnancy, I’ve been wrestling with this tension between grieving the loss of the pregnancy and recognizing that I don’t get to approach God as an equal. I want to be able to justify myself and feel righteous, and that I’ve been wronged by God. But, I no longer feel that I have permission to let myself go in that direction. Internally, there is an anchor that will not let me head down that road. I still think the situation is painful and it sucks, but (and here’s where it ties back to Job) like Job, I can’t defend myself before God. There’s a ceiling between God and I, and I do not approach God as equal or as God’s judge. I’m left sitting in the dust.
By saying that I don’t get to approach God as judge, I’m not saying that the situation is my fault or that I deserve it. I’m just to trying to wrestle with a tension in myself; I want to control that which is uncontrollable in my reality. I’m warring with the impulse to be god of my own life. I want to fix, to defend, to justify, to inflate myself – rather than submit and dwell in the sad place where I cannot control all the elements of my world. I want to feel powerful and in control. And this time around, unlike the previous three miscarriages, I’m forcing myself to just mourn, not to charge God with wronging me, not blaming God, not grasp for power; just bringing this broken self and sitting with God in my grief.
There’s some wisdom that I encountered in Helmut Thielicke’s The Silence of God last month that sticks with me, and fits along these lines. He writes,
“It is worth noting that so long as we cry: ‘Tell us God, why you do this or that; explain that we may be comforted,’ we never find comfort. It is only when we learn to be silent and to say: ‘We are not God’s creditors, He does not owe us anything; on the contrary, God is our Creditor and we can only submit to Him for grace or judgment,’ that we really come to know His divine comfort (40-41).”
This does connect back to Job. I found it interesting as I read this weekend that Job only finds relief in the book once he adopts this posture before God, and others authentically come alongside to comfort him (which doesn’t happen till the last chapter). In my own situation, I’m trying to not be judge of myself (trying not to dwell on what minute possibly crazy thing I might have done that God must be displeased with, and is causing us to not have children), and trying not to be judge of God (trying not to ask what kind of crazy God keeps doing this to me). And I’m trying to not feel wounded by or defensive toward usually well-intentioned others trying to speak to my situation.
On a side note, just for educational purposes, there are at least three things that are really not helpful to say to someone in my circumstance: 1) It’ll happen when you quit trying so hard. (Our case: when we quit trying, we have an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.) 2) Have you considered adoption? (Our case: Yes, and when we’ve been about to turn in paperwork, we got pregnant and miscarried. And every time we start seriously considering this option again, it happens again.) 3) Sharing anecdotes of people who adopted and then got pregnant. All of these things (and others) have been said to us by well-meaning, loving people, and these types of statements can all be unintentionally very hurtful. (If I’ve demolished your social script for these situations, “I’m sorry” is almost always an appropriate and safe response.)
But, back to the topic at hand, I wanted to note a couple more things to make sure that I’m not misunderstood. I think there’s a place for crying out to God in anger and grief (like Psalm 13, among others, shows), and to plead with God regarding our human situations. I’m not trying to escape emotion or depth of honesty in my relationship with God. I think God is big enough to handle me being honest about my situation, and my relationship with God has withstood my anger and shaking my fist. I think there’s a difference between being angry about my situation and blaming/judging God for that situation. For my own situation, I’m grieved, and I want healing from God in my life; and I come before God as a beggar – not as one who is owed something.
What I am trying to do is avoid taking the stance of an accuser before God and also before others. I’m trying to avoid comparing my life to others, fleeing from questions that sound like “why can so-and-so have kids and I cannot?” and rejecting jealous or bitter thought patterns that might inhibit me from celebrating another person’s joy –be it pregnancy, child, etc– that I may never experience.
And incidentally, there’s a reason I chose the bleak picture that I took in North Dakota a few years ago. Yes, it’s gray, barren and bleak — somewhat like my life right now. But, it’s also the beginning of spring. The snow is receding, and dreary winter doesn’t last forever. And on occasion, I need to be able to remind myself of that.