One of the things that’s difficult about having a blog is the sudden pressure you feel to keep writing. Some days, I just don’t feel like it. Some days, I’m even pretty sure I shouldn’t. I mean, of course I have thoughts. I always have thoughts. But some thoughts, especially when you’re literally drowning in the breakers and waves of grief, require you to walk the fine line of wisdom between sharing and not sharing. Some of the things I have felt and thought and wrestled with in the last nine months have been dark and powerful and ugly. And I have felt at times what Asaph said in the midst of the pain of Pslam 73:15, “If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.”
That’s why it meant so much to me when God spoke to my heart the other day through a sermon on Psalm 42. It was given by John Piper, and focused on the heart of the Psalmist in the midst of suffering. Piper points out how the Psalmist of 42 actually felt betrayed by God. He felt cast down. He felt forgotten. And He lived in the complex dance of actually feeling those things, and yet not letting them dictate His theology. He still believed in God’s steadfast character and love in the midst of, not to the exclusion of, what He was feeling.
I think this is an incredibly important point to make, because in the cesspool of suffering there is great temptation to do one of two things. When the depth to which God’s allows you to suffer becomes almost irreconcilable with what you once believed of His character, you feel enormously tempted to either….
1. Give up on your feelings, or
2. Give up on your theology.
Grief just hurts SO badly. And some people come to the point where they just say, “I’m not going to allow myself to hurt this much for even one more day.” They shut it off by medicating…on drugs, on TV, on trying to have another baby…basically we Americans have about a million ways of medicating. But mostly, they try to shut it off by burying the pain. This helps keep the theology in tact, but I’m convinced that it’s almost impossible to live life meaningfully without feeling things deeply…especially painful things.
Then there’s the other extreme…those who chose to be alive to the pain, and dead to their theology. People who stay emotionally engaged in the pain and drink the cup of suffering all the way down to the last drop…at the cost of everything. Because you can’t do this for very long without the pain becoming so utterly incapacitating that it’s almost impossible to function in daily life. In these endless months of suffering and grief, I’ve found simple tasks like going to the grocery store incredibly exhausting. And the longer you’re willing to sit in the pain of how much the God you loved and trusted and entrusted your babies lives to…HURT you…the harder it is to fully reconcile all the other things you once believed.
And so, in the end…in the pushy way that grief forces you to deal with these extremes daily…you either pick a camp to live in, or you learn to live in the messy. There are those who keep to the camp of Theology by shutting down their hearts completely. They say, “This is what I know to be true of God…I’ll just believe it and not think about how much He just hurt me.” And there are those who pick the camp of Feeling… by shutting down their faith completely. They say, “This is how much I’m hurting, and I don’t care what God says about Himself…I can no longer believe those things.”
Well people, I can wax poetic on either camp…because I’ve been there on any given day.
I think that’s why I so appreciated Piper’s words on the heart of the Psalmist. Here is someone (technically Sons of Korah) who was willing to stay engaged in both his heart and his faith. He is honest enough to tell God, “I feel like You’ve betrayed, forgotten, abandoned, and knocked me over with all Your breakers and Your waves.” And at the same time faithful enough to say, “And yet, I still believe.”
So, why am I saying all of these things? Well, most of you will never suffer through the living hell of burying two perfectly healthy babies. And I say “hell,” because it was hell. If hell is, by definition, “separation from God,” then there’s been no greater temptation to separate from and give up on believing in God’s love…than the days my babies died. I felt far from God. I felt forsaken and forgotten. I felt bowled over and betrayed. I felt like He didn’t love me. And like the author says in the book, “When God breaks Your Heart,” I completely felt like it was an almighty, sovereign, powerful God, who had broken mine.
But just because you’ll probably never face that suffering, doesn’t mean that you will not face any suffering…or more importantly, that you will never feel some of these very things. You may someday feel like the God who you have always loved and trusted and believed to be good…has forgotten and betrayed you beyond belief.
And in reality, for most of us, most days…we wrestle with these two extremes in much more subtle ways.
We visit a friend in the hospital, or go to a funeral, or watch the world news on TV…and though it isn’t our suffering…it’s hard enough to bear it anyways. We see all this suffering and we try to let God “off the hook” by saying, “Oh, God doesn’t want it to be this way.”
Well, the question I keep coming back to every single day is…if He didn’t, then why allow it? Is it because He isn’t strong enough? Or because He isn’t good enough? And if He isn’t sovereign enough to have stopped it if He had wanted to…then what kind of God is He anyways? There’s at least a hundred verses in the Word that are absolutely irreconcilable, if God is not all at once…Good, Sovereign, and Strong…all at the same time.
That is not to say that God delights in our suffering. I know that He doesn’t. I know that the nine million times I have laid on the floor weeping…God was laying there weeping right beside me. I know that the Jesus who wept at Lazarus’ tomb…wept with me at my babies graves. And I’m convinced that the Lord aches over frail humanities collective and individual suffering in such a deep and sincere way that if we could see it clearly, we would be embarrassed by how little we ache and grieve comparatively.
But that doesn’t mean He is this weak God who couldn’t stop it…simply because He didn’t. I refuse to dumb Him down to some senile old Grandpa in the sky who is wringing His hands and crying, “But what can I do?” That is not theism….that is Deism. God, our God, the powerful, sovereign almighty Yahweh, is not a God who set the great cosmic clock a-spinning, and now sits back and watches as we spin and suffer and ache all the way through this broken life. He is GOD. He could have called down legions of angels at ANY moment to stop ANY given thing from happening…from the burial of Lazarus, to the crucifixion of His own Son, to the death of my own babies.
But He didn’t.
And we are left with the “Why?” And it’s the “Why?” that will drive you absolutely insane. Because it’s the “Why” that will drive you to these dangerous extremes of either disbelief or Deism in the first place.
So here I am, fighting daily against these two extremes with my broken and bleeding heart, deep in the throwes of what my friend calls, “The Black Stage.” And while I certainly agree it’s black, I think it’s a stretch calling it a stage. A stage is temporary. But what I’m in doesn’t feel temporary, because what I’m in right now is the rest of my life. I’m in the learning to live the rest of my life without my babies. It’s not a stage. I actually have to live the rest of my life without my babies. It’s not a season. It’s my new life.
The initial shock of early grief was a season. It was miserable, and it was also filled with cards, flowers, texts, emails, and people constantly asking if they could help us in any way. But months three, four, five…nine…those months are incredibly lonely. It’s not that no one writes or prays or loves on us today, it’s just that most people presume that we’ve moved on…because they have. Not that they no longer care…but they no longer feel the loss of someone they never knew anyways.
It’s not easy grieving a life when you were the ONLY one who touched them alive. I’m the only one who felt Charlie’s tiny toes kick my very body. Who touched him as I slept and ate and lived and played and prayed…all the while having no idea that those would be our ONLY interactions this side of eternity.
So, I wouldn’t call this a Black Stage. I’d call this my New Permanently Broken Life. That isn’t to say that my life was so perfectly unbroken before…because it wasn’t. I was a broken sinner, living in a broken world long before I lived through the hell of my babies dying. But it was never THIS broken. And death is a permanent breaking. There’s nothing that could ever fix this much breaking. There’s no amount of time that will turn this into a “season” of my life. It’s just my new life.
But if I had to define it in some way, I’d say that this year, this new, permanent life without my babies, has been, like it was once said of Narnia… “Always winter, but never Christmas.”
It’s been all of the sorrow and suffering and imobilizing fear of parenthood…with so little of the joys. It’s a lot of work carrying a baby for nine months…Imagine never getting to hold or love or meet that baby. It’s a lot of work going through the pains of labor…Imagine laboring knowing there will be no cry of life, no eyes to search, no heart to know…on the other side. It’s a lot of work LOVING someone and risking so much of your heart in the loving…Imagine not getting to LOVE them, but only getting to grieve their unlived lives.
It’s been such a very long winter…and the Christmas joys of parenthood are never coming.
Even the moments that should have felt like Christmas in this long year called 2013…have each been weeks of deep winter pain. I gave birth to Charlie…the day before Freddo’s 3rd birthday. Baby Zeller died…the day before Emma’s 6th birthday. And we found out why our babies died…the week of Sophie’s 2nd birthday. Even moments of Christmas…have felt a million miles from Joy.
And in the winter, the coldest winter of our lives…that is when it’s the hardest to hold on to your faith. That is when it’s the hardest to believe that God is ALL of those things…Sovereign, Powerful, Purposeful, Good, and Loving…ALL AT THE SAME TIME.
But I’m learning that it’s in Winter….when you most need to fight to be like the Psalmist’s, to fight to be alive to your heart AND full of faith.
And I’m learning that it’s in the Winter…when it means the very most that He has given us the promise that after all of the hellish suffering of this life…
Christmas is coming.
Someday, somewhere, in a far away Land and an eternal time…the Christ of Christmas will reign.
I miss my babies so much today I ache. I think I’ve cried at least seven times today and it’s only 3:30. But I will walk with God, and pour out my pain, and cling to what I believe about Him for one more day. Because I know, deep in my heart, that someday…Christmas is coming.
Someday, it really will be Never Winter and Always Christmas.
And it will be worth this long, dark wait.