The church lady beamed at me with a broad toothy smile, “Well it is God who closes the womb and it is God who can open it back up again. You just need to pray about it.”
I had just shared with our group some of my recent struggles. Pushing myself to be more open, I mentioned that we were disappointed that we hadn’t been able to conceive a second child and felt that God intended us to have a small family though we had always desired a larger one (there is a long story as to what brought us to that conclusion which I’ll go into another time). It felt vulnerable, but I was hurting and lonely and I needed to connect with someone.
The smiling church lady began quoting Bible versus about God and His faithfulness and about barren women giving birth. I couldn’t hear her, as I was focusing hard on resisting the urge to punch her in the face. My heart was aching and at the same time I started wondering if perhaps my experience wasn’t justified. Was it possible that somehow I had gotten my very own story wrong? My head spinning, I questioned myself, was I being unfaithful? Does feeling heartbroken have a place in the church? If I truly believe that God loves me and He is sovereign, why am I so disappointed? Maybe this is all my fault?
As I drove home that night, as much as I was frustrated with what I had heard, I recognized that on plenty of occasions I have been guilty of doing the same thing. My husband refers to it as “putting a scripture band-aide on a sucking chest wound.” Basically offering little snippets of the Bible about hope and peace that serve more as a slap in the face than as an encouragement when thrown at someone in pain.
The truth is we live in a broken world with unexplainable devastation.
We recently returned from a visit to South Texas where there are 60,000 kids in detention as unaccompanied minors after crossing illegally from Central America. And while they are in holding facilities, (they aren’t calling them prisons), not in school, not with family, most are safer and better taken care of now than they were at home.
This year in Texas 1,500 kids will age out from the foster care system without family support or the skills needed to survive in the world. Many will have their few personal things put into trash bags and be dropped off at a homeless shelter on their 18th birthday.
Right now we are watching and praying along with family friends who have a daughter, born only a few days after ours, as her body gradual declines from a lethal genetic condition.
I have delivered stillborn babies and handed them to wailing mothers and then sat with them as they kissed them and cried.
There is no place for scripture band-aids among the grieving.
One thing we know for sure is that in this life is that we will all suffer.
We practice a faith where our Savior was tortured and died, and He beckons us to follow Him.
Kathleen Norris discusses this in The Cloister Walk, which we are reading together in the Liturgy of Life reading group. She says, “The human experience is of violence, and the psalms reflect our experience of the world.” She goes on,
. . . the true religions of America are optimism and denial. The psalms demand that we recognize that praise does not spring from a delusion that things are better than they are, but rather from the human capacity for joy. Only when we see this can we understand that both lamentation and exultation can be forms of praise . . . praise need not be a fruit of optimism.
I was a little stumped on how to discuss this topic, so again I went to my husband (he is the real writer in the family and if you think any of my ideas are good they most likely came from him even when I don’t give him credit), we decided that the psalms in our day and age could best be described as a sort of holy WTF?! A place in scripture where you can retreat during your darkest moments, a place where you feel understood when your entire world is falling apart and nothing makes sense.
There are plenty of phrases like this one found in Psalm 38,
I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart (v 7-8).
The psalms do for us what we often can’t do for each other, they let us be honest, and they let us just be. They do not insist that we pull ourselves together, get over it or move on. Their writers aren’t uncomfortable or unacquainted with misery. They don’t try to minimize it or explain it or tell you it is all for the best.
Norris says “. . . the psalms do not deny your true feelings but allow you to reflect on them, right in front of God and everyone.”
Reading The Cloister Walk helped me realize that both crying out to God in grief or shouting to Him with joy are both singing His praises. Both speak of God’s sovereignty, both are submissions to His will, both are saying, “God I need you.” And intermixed in all of the despair they whisper to us of our only hope, that even in our darkest moments God is real, He is with us and He loves us.