How Two Miscarriages Changed My View of God
(Originally published 11/21/14)
A few weeks ago, two women from our church experienced miscarriages on the same day. I am glad both women reached out for support during their grief instead of suffering privately. Throughout the years, many of my friends have struggled through infertility and the loss of their unborn babies. Even though I know my words can’t dull the pain of unfulfilled longing, being able to share my own story of infertility and miscarriage with some of them has at least helped them to feel not so alone.
I want to share what God taught me about Himself through my sorrow. A short disclaimer, though, if you are in the middle of a painful trial: this post is not meant to make your pain disappear, nor is it meant to make you feel guilty if you are still crying out to God for answers. To be clear, I did not come to these conclusions in the middle of the trial, but in the months and years after them. It is OK to be in a state of “wrestling with God” for answers or for comfort while you are enduring a painful season. It is often not until the throbbing subsides that we are able to receive the answers or the peace we long for.
I had my first miscarriage in September of 2000. After months of trying to conceive our first child, I finally saw two lines on a pregnancy test, and felt the hormonal symptoms to back it up. We were ecstatic, and couldn’t refrain from telling all our family and friends. Two weeks later, I was sobbing in an ultrasound room as the tech confirmed our fears. It was no comfort to hear that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, or that this was “nature’s way” of disposing of abnormalities, or that the zygote never attached to the uterine wall. It didn’t help to hear, “Well, at least you were only 6 weeks along”. I was far enough along to have a due date. I was far enough along to envision what this baby would look like and feel like in my arms. It was also no consolation that, “At least you know you can conceive.” My worst fear was that we wouldn’t be able to conceive again, or that I would never be able to carry a baby full term. Now I knew what that crushing disappointment felt like. I didn’t think I could endure it again.
A few months later, we visited an infertility doctor who suggested a series of tests. He concluded that the problem was with my hormones. Brent was relieved it wasn’t his issue, but I just felt broken. Now I knew how my friend felt who suffered years of infertility due to endometriosis. It was my fault that we couldn’t have children. What a blow.
Thankfully, a few months of hormonal treatment and two rounds of Clomid were all it took for us to conceive again, and our first son, Ian was the result. In the end, I was grateful for the trial. Now I could empathize with the many women I knew who suffered infertility and loss. I figured that empathy was the answer, the reason for the trial. But I was also grateful that my suffering was pretty short-lived – about 3 years from the time we first started trying to the time Ian was born.
A second son, Sylas, came quickly after the first. Surprise! I didn’t need anything to get pregnant this time. We moved across the country with a 17 month and a 6 week old, and spent the next few years settling in and starting a church. In 2005, after life quieted down a bit, we decided to have another baby. We conceived after about three months of trying, but in a few weeks, found ourselves again grieving at an empty sonogram picture. This time was different. In many ways, it hurt worse than the first one. I questioned God a lot more. My view of God as a loving Father was shaken at the foundation.
I found myself wondering if God really cared about me. I questioned the fairness of this. Why did He have to take another baby? I thought I already learned what I was supposed to learn. How many women did I know who got pregnant without trying, and never lost their babies? Hadn’t I just moved across the country to serve God? I gave up a lot for Him. Didn’t He owe me this one favor?
“If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.”
These words come from Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God which was a game changer for my faith. Keller takes the story of the Prodigal Son and points out the ways that both licentiousness (younger brother) and religiosity (older brother) turn us away from the Father.
Some people deal with feelings of guilt and shame when they face difficulties, blaming themselves somehow for the trials of life, or assuming they are getting their just desserts. Those people view God through the younger brother lens, and need to see Him instead as full of grace and acceptance, which is beautifully portrayed in the story of the Father running to greet him. But other people, like the older brother (and me), deal with resentment towards God when He acts “unfairly”. I didn’t even know that I had this subtle reward system with God going on. I had to ask myself, “Am I serving God because I want something from Him, or because I love Him?” “Am I motivated by fear or love?” “Do I see myself as entitled or forgiven?” “Do I see God as a boss or a Father?” “Do I see myself as a slave or a child?”
In the story, the Father has the same response to both sons, “Come. Enjoy the feast.” I am invited to leave my pride and shame at the door, and enter the merriment of being in God’s presence, fully accepted and loved as His child. In the months following my second miscarriage, my heart healed, but more importantly, I made the conscious decision to join the feast. To replace my entitlement with gratitude, my fear with love. To do for God and others, not to gain acceptance, but because I already am accepted.
So, once again, I can say I’m glad for the trial. It squeezed a little bit more poison to the surface of my heart so that it could be extracted and replaced with the nectar of grace. I wish I could say that my older brother tendencies are totally gone, but that would be a lie. I’m still smacked in the face sometimes with my penchant for self righteousness. But now I see it more readily and can apply the antivenom of the Father’s Grace.