Friday, September 19, 2014

When Jeremiah 29:11 sounds like a cruel joke...and then maybe not

So many times during our infertility journey, people said to me, “This is God’s will” or, “God has a plan.”

These statements do not comfort one suffering like the speaker might hope.  Really, they create a rather confusing image of God.  If I tell you I feel as if I am drowning and may never be happy again, and you tell me that this is what my supposedly loving, merciful Father desires for me, I feel somehow less inclined to lean on Him.  How can I trust someone who wants to hurt me?

“Offer it up,” you might say.  Excuse me while I go throw up.  I have met few people who actually understand what this phrase is supposed to mean.  Unfortunately, most people who have said it to me have meant it as a sanctimonious “Get over it.”  What I finally discovered is that in offering our sufferings to Christ, we say to Him, “I know you have already borne and redeemed this pain.  Let me walk with someone who also feels this way so they can feel your love.”  As a rule, this is a dreadful thing to say to someone who is suffering acutely.

For months, I felt abandoned by God.  I could not understand why He would not let me serve Him.  Everything I attempted was snatched out of my hands with no explanation.  I felt exhausted.  It took all my strength just to keep breathing.  Yet, somehow, I knew I could not abandon my faith.  I told God, “I’m really mad at You, and I don’t even like You right now.  I hate everyone, and I don’t trust You.  But for some bizarre reason, I don’t want to leave You.  I guess I will stay.  I love You, but I am not sure why.  Whatever.”

Yeah, that is what my prayer life looked like a year and a half ago.  Pretty terrible. 

Then, one day, I knelt in our parish’s adoration chapel.  I was doing okay that day.  Just enjoying God’s quiet presence there.  A mother and her three young children knelt down next to me.  Actually, the mother knelt and bowed her head in fervent prayer.  The little ones remained very quiet, but they wiggled and climbed on the pew in front of us.  I smiled a little at seeing this beautiful family, but of course, my heart ached. 

Another woman sat down in the pew in front of me.  She laid down a book beside her.  The Grace of Motherhood.  Now I felt angry.  There God went again, taunting me.  Every time I felt the slightest hint of peace, it seemed He would dangle what I painfully longed for right in front of me – always out of my reach.  “Why?!,” I demanded.  “I can’t do this.  How can I stay on your team if all You do is wreck my heart with pain and then just sit there?!”

Suddenly, light glared into my eyes.  Bright, yellow light.  In my experience in the chapel, the stained glass windows appeared dark or evenly lit.  Confused, I looked up to see from where this light was shining.  Above the altar in the chapel is a large window depicting Christ welcoming the little children.

The woman in yellow, holding her tiny infant, was brightly illuminated.  The rest of the window appeared as it usually did in daylight hours.  The light from the woman shone directly in my face.  I gazed at her for a few moments.  Then, deep in my heart, I heard these words:

“I know your pain.”

Tears welled in my eyes as a deep peace settled within me.  God cared about my suffering.  He had not left me to figure this out on my own.  He had heard me, and He cried in sadness with me. 

After just a few minutes, the clouds shifted, and the window was lit evenly again.  My pain still sat heavily in my chest, but I felt different.  Like this agony was finally wrapped up in something and could not dig its sharp spikes into my lungs so easily.  Those short moments left me with the fragile hope that this might all be part of something greater, and it was okay that I could not fully understand it. 

I can hardly explain how those few words resonated in me.  God had not been where I thought He was during these terrible days.  He was not sitting stoically atop His Heavenly throne, doling out instances of character-building suffering.  He had been beside me, holding me, crying with me.  He did not will this awful pain.  This was never part of His original plan.  How it got here is kind of a long story, but the important part is that this and all our pain has been redeemed through the cross.  Jesus bore every pain in the history of the world.  While bleeding and dying, He thought of me by name. 

Knowing that God is with us does not take away our pain.  I did not suddenly feel like rainbows and glitter when I recognized His presence.  My pain does not appear to be leaving any time soon even though I have healed considerably and often feel happy now.  Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I suddenly remember that we will never have children.  I fly into a mental rage and have to fight back tears in public.

Attaining knowledge of a divine blueprint offers little comfort.  We can, however, rest in the knowledge that suffering has not won the day.  The battle has been fought.  Love has won.  We are not capable of dealing with life’s struggles alone.  We should not hurt ourselves by trying to do so.  We have not been left to “figure it out.”  We are called simply to rest in the arms of God and cry when life hurts.  Because it does.  And God knows that. 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

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