It Is Well: Sin and Grief, Part 2

Through the Lord’s kindness toward me, I have been able to at least identify some areas of miscarriage-related sin in my life. They say that “the first step is to admit that you have a problem,” and it has proven true, in my case. I won’t say that I’m over it, or that I don’t struggle anymore, but being able to identify areas of sin has at least given me the ability to engage in the fight where I was previously too weak to try. I’ll share my main struggles here, hoping that the Lord would use this list to help you in your own battle.

One of my first reactions was to minimize the joy of others. I would try to pay less attention to peoples’ announcements, intentionally not think too much about their news, and purposefully not enter into their joy. I’d almost poo-poo it like it was no big deal. I was a poor sport — if other people had the one thing I wanted and didn’t have, then I tried to make it seem trivial and unworthy of desire. If I could make it not a big deal for them I could make myself believe that it wasn’t a big deal for me either, at least for long enough to get home and recognize that I had lost something very valuable and dear to me. It was sinful to not laugh with those who were laughing, and to minimize the blessing and value of new life.

Another common response was annoyance and anger. This was the progression of feelings, sometimes accompanied by thoughts: How dare they be so callous and joyful in front of me? Don’t they realize that there are people here who might have lost a baby or are dealing with infertility?? Why are they announcing so early? They could lose their baby next week!! I know they’re happy, but FIVE pictures on Facebook? Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean that you’re going to have this baby in a day or a year — where is your fear of mortality??? This was unjust anger and bitterness.

I also often felt jealousy, I’m ashamed to admit. This one is really nasty, when it pops up. For me, it wasn’t just the jealously of the baby itself, but jealousy of the attention other expectant parents were given for their pregnancy (even writing that out loud makes me embarrassed and ashamed). My inner dialogue often went something like this: “That should be me! They wouldn’t be getting so much attention if people knew that I had a miscarriage. We would have been due first, now everyone’s going to be sick of new babies by the time ours is born even if we try again right away!” You know, because people get sick of new babies, and everyone should be sure to talk about their suffering in order for people feel sorry for them and feel bad for being excited for other people’s joyful news.

Yuck. That’s all I have to say about that. There haven’t been very many times in my life where I’ve been as revolted by my sin as I have been through this whole process. But through the conviction of the Spirit, I have been reminded of my sin and strengthened to turn my back on it when it rears its ugly head. I don’t always win the battles, but I’m fighting, and feeling stronger in the fight. The refining fire is doing its job, I think.

I want to encourage you, if you’re struggling with sin: with every “Jesus, help me!” you’re calling on the power that created and sustains this world. Every nook and cranny of it, seen or unseen, is upheld by his strength. He is powerful enough to sustain you too. Trust the Lord to work for your good in both your suffering and in your sin-fighting. When do you appreciate a safety net? When you’re falling. When do you appreciate strength? When you’re weak. When do you appreciate healing? When you’ve been sick. You won’t know God’s wonderful provision for fighting sin if you wallow. So don’t stay in your sin — fight it, and find the smiling face in the frowning providence. It’s worth it.

“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill, He treasures up His bright designs, and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread, are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”
-William Cowper-
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It Is Well: Sin and Grief, Part 1

From the time I was a little girl, the hymn “It Is Well” has been one of my favorite hymns. I remember the first time I listened to the Adventures in Odyssey episode that told the story of it’s composer, Horatio Spafford. I was probably around five or six years old, but even then the story of his remarkable faith in the midst of Job-like loss — losing both family and fortune — gripped me, and perhaps even planted the first seeds of Christian hedonism in my heart. How could anyone sing, “..when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot thou has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul,” after losing four daughters in a shipwreck, let alone the other trials he’d experienced? His faith, and that song, have been an anchor for me in my own suffering of various kinds throughout the years.

But even with my great affection for the song, one verse always baffled me:

“My sin — oh the bliss of this glorious thought! —
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

I liked this verse, but why is this verse about sin in the middle of a song about suffering and loss? The final verse made sense — loss makes the prospect of Jesus’ return sweeter — but this middle verse seemed completely out of sync with the mood and intention of the song.

But then today in church it hit me — grieving and sinning go together! Perhaps the most confusing and ongoing part of miscarriage “recovery” has been fighting and rooting out the sin that has been and is being exposed. I wasn’t expecting to deal with sin so intensely after the miscarriage. But Satan is a real jerk and loves to find ways to kick us while we’re down, encouraging the growth of sin in our hearts in wherever he sees a weakness. I have a lot of pregnant friends right now, and we found out about most of their pregnancies after the loss of ours (most of them don’t know about mine). And so, sin and Satan struck at my weak point.

A few weeks after my miscarriage, as the initial grief, shock, and hormone-driven emotions wore off, I was stuck. At every announcement of pregnancy, every sight of a pregnant friend or the perfect stranger with a newborn at the Target check-out, and every ultrasound photo on Facebook, three reactions were at war (and still are sometimes, if I’m honest) for expression: 1) genuine joy for their happiness, 2) genuine grief for my loss, and 3) sin, in manifold expressions. I never knew what was going to come out of my mouth, and it was exhausting to try to respond well. Most of the time I just wanted to stay home with my husband and watch TV in sweatpants.

One thing about miscarriage, though, is that there will always be children that would be the same age as the baby we lost. There will always be pregnant people around me. Whatever sin comes up in the aftermath of miscarriage isn’t going to just go away. It will always be there to either give into, or to fight.

To the outside observer, my sin was pretty subtle (I think). But on the inside, it was getting harder and harder to love people. Selfish thoughts were crowding out the selfless, and I was lost in the mire of sin and grief, unsure what  was sin and what was just the natural process of grief. My sin was affecting relationships, whether my friends noticed or not, and my heart was wounded, angry, and hard. My desire for righteousness was weak, and my time in devotions was wasted. I could barely pay attention long enough to read a few verses.

I didn’t know what to do — all I could do was pray, “Jesus, help me!” I felt like the 100th sheep — he came and rescued me, despite my wandering heart.

What kinds of sin, you might ask? I’ll be posting some of the particulars in part two sometime this week. It’s been a slow, painful process. But with the help of my husband and a good friend, the Lord has enabled me to begin to fight.

 

A Hole in My Heart

This is me tonight:

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Again. I did it to myself — I read the The Fault In Our Stars on vacation in December on a train and had to put it down several times because I didn’t want to cry in public in a foreign country. But it was such a good book that when I saw it on Audible for less than $5.00 right when I was about to start a big data entry project at work I bought it – against my better judgement.

You see those contradictions right? It was a wonderful book, but I bought against my better judgment.

But really, it’s a great book. Wonderful, smart, funny, writing. Writing with real depth. Characters that are worth crying for. It has it all, and oh boy will it traumatize you. In a good way, I think.

This book asks all of the right questions, being a book about teenagers and cancer. It’s thought provoking, challenging, and insightful. I have great respect for John Green, the man who created Hazel and Augustus — it’s amazing to see the product of such God-given imagination, writing talent and emotional depth in literature.

The reason this book leaves a hole in my heart is that it is so real. The whole book just rings of emotional and experiential truth. It’s just raw. In a good way. But it’s also incomplete. John Green writes Young Adult fiction because he wants to write to teenagers. He counts it a privilege to be an influence in a time when teenagers are beginning to determine their worldview (he talks about this in an interview at the end of the audio version of the book that I just listened to). He also left the path to ministry in the Episcopal church because of what he felt were insufficient answers to the questions that must be confronted when children suffer from terminal diseases.

In light of that experience, I would have expected more satisfying answers in his book. But they weren’t there! The questions are all there, and none of the answers except that cancer and dying are a side-effect of evolution – a failed mutation. There is probably some sort of after-life, but there can’t be a God who knows us and cares about suffering.

Instead of giving answers, he leaves the characters and readers alike in ambiguity. But maybe that’s his point. Maybe he is just trying to say, “I don’t know the answers.” He seems to have given up on “God-with-us” idea when he saw the cruel outworking the Fall in the lives of children.

But I think his answers are the easy way out of dealing with hard questions.  Suffering exists to bring glory to an infinitely worthy God (here and here are good articles about this, and here‘s a book I’d recommend). Our sovereign God is out for our ultimate good – which includes a whole eternity beyond this earthly life. Suffering may rip our heart and body to pieces on earth, but it won’t last forever. And do we, the  prized possessions of a God who sent his own son to die for us, really have cause to question his methods of bringing about our ultimate joy in the eternity to come? I don’t think so.

I hope that one day he finds the true answers to his questions. I hope that one day the teenagers that he’s influencing hear the truth and believe it too. I hope that one day his creativity will teach his teenage audience about a sovereign, loving God who is working all things for our good and his glory.

But until then, let’s use his wonderful talent as a springboard for discussion about hard issues. Let’s be cut to the quick by the suffering he so brilliantly displays in his book. God can use even misguided talent for his glory. Let’s not let John Green waste his.

[photo credit: I tried to find it, but this photo is all over the place, so I’m not sure where it started. I first saw it on Pinterest.]

Homesickness

Grief is one of those things that I think never actually goes away, and I’m learning that this is a good thing.

When I was in high-school there were several things that happened around me that caused long-lasting grief. I don’t need to go into the details here, but what I wanted to share is that sometimes, often, even, I remember and feel the weight of grief come over me once again. Sometimes I’m just sad. It’s been long enough that it doesn’t feel like a debilitating weight, and there are tears only when I remember of the hurt of others who were more profoundly impacted and are still impacted daily by what happened. For me there’s always been something familiar about the feeling of grief, and something good. Not that the feeling itself is a good feeling, but rather that the feeling of grief is right and appropriate in a deep, deep way.

I realized today the reason for the familiarity of grief, and that led me to dwell of the goodness of it. Grief is akin to homesickness. We long for something that is not with us, something that has passed by and is unattainable. The weight can be crushing because it is inescapable. No matter how hard we try, we can’t go back home. Home – where we feel at ease with those we love, content with the knowledge that all is right in our little world. Grief is living in the knowledge that all is not right in our world. Those we love are not with us. And more than that, they can’t be with us, and won’t be with us on this earth ever. again. And so we are homesick for that pleasant feeling of rightness that cannot be obtained.

This is right. And it is good. We were not meant to live without the most important things. We were not meant to live with death, and loss, sadness. We are eternal souls, and death and ending does not sit well with us. We were meant for heaven, for life, beauty, and goodness. This is a good discord to feel, and one that drives us to seek Jesus – in whose presence there is fullness of joy, and who is even today preparing a place for us. A home.

So let’s grieve, and long, and be homesick for heaven, our eternal dwelling place with Christ, our joy. Our home, where we will forever be at ease with our family, loved of God, and all will be right in the world, forever, and ever, and ever. Maranatha!