Released from Anguish

Since our last miscarriage I have been relieved, happy, sad, grieving, angry, tired, hot, grateful, worried, anxious, joyful, restless, apprehensive, and a load of other emotions besides. At any given hour on any given day I may experience any or all of these emotions pertaining to our current inability to have a second child. Some who have seen me during this time have only seen the happy or joyful hours. Others have only seen the restless hours. When we only see snapshots of people’s lives, it’s perhaps easy to think they are missing some key emotional benchmarks during a particularly stressful or painful time, but I think it helps to remember we’re only seeing fragments.

Several people have been surprised by my response to our second miscarriage. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think there are a couple of things going on here. Firstly is the above. As I reassured my fertility councellor this week, I am accessing the full spectrum of emotions, but I’m not going digging for them during a two-hour coffee date or a church service if I’m not currently feeling them at that time. They come when they come, and if appropriate (Toby’s presence dependant), I will let them out when they do. Often this surprises me too. For example, while taking Toby swimming this week I was faced with several new parents joyfully splashing their tiny babies with water and encouragement during their first time in a swimming pool. I loved, and still love, taking Toby swimming. He took to the water immediately as a baby of 6 weeks old, and now at three spends 80% of his swimtime underwater. Watching these young families go through that experience I felt a strange mix of joy at my own reminiscing and intense pain that I may never get to experience that moment again. One of many firsts I had hoped I’d be able to live again with a second child. During this moment the sadness was intense and present and I felt it in a very real way.

The second reason I think my response is falling short of some people’s expectations is to do with anguish. Several Christians I know have expressed their anger and confusion at our situation. They can’t understand why God is allowing this to happen to us. I’ve been asked if it is very hard to be at church on a Sunday morning. Whilst I appreciate their underlying sentiments of love for us and outrage at our pain, I just don’t feel the same way. I used to, but now I don’t. And here is why, I think…

Over the last few years, I have undergone a theological shift. No longer do I believe in shopping list prayers, in any of their (even subtlest) forms. God has not promised us a second child. Nor did he promise us our first. He doesn’t owe us anything. He has not let me down. Praying more, or more fervently, or with more faith (wishing harder), or with different words makes absolutely no difference to the situation. And thank God it doesn’t. I would not want to follow a God who, out of some cruel and sadistic whim, desires a special formula of prayer from His subjects in order to grant their desires.

Furthermore, no longer do I believe there has to be some profound meaning behind events in this life. Everything does not happen for a reason.

This quest to find meaning and reason behind pain and suffering is a very western worldview. In other cultures there is less of an emphasis on working it out, fighting it and conquering it, and more energy is spent moving on with the pain, acknowledging the reality of the shitty situation, whatever that may be, and carrying it with you. I think we sometimes see this as weakness – not fighting, but accepting. I actually think this is strength of a whole different kind. For me, Christianity is becoming a place where trying to find meaning in the absurd is pointless. It is literally without point. In fact, it entirely misses the point.

In the story of Job in the bible, we see a man who suffers great loss. He loses his entire family, all his possessions, his wealth, his health. And he is surrounded by people who try, I’m sure in love, to offer him reasons for his predicament – his sin? His doubts? They search for meaning and answers in the absurdity of his situation. And it’s all bollocks. None of it comes close to offering a reliable explanation for the pain and suffering he’s experiencing. At the end, God steps in. But he doesn’t offer an explanation either. I recently heard Rob Bell, a Christian preacher and teacher, talking about this very moment, and he put so succinctly that which I’ve been experiencing these last few years: In freeing Job from looking for meaning – in that moment – God releases him from the anguish of the situation. He still has the pain and grief of what has happened. He’s not denying that it hurts. But he is no longer looking for the reasons behind it, no longer wrestling with impossible-to-answer questions of causality and destiny. He is freed from trying to rationalise the absurd and all the mental torture and anguish that comes along with such a fruitless task.

That’s how I feel.

It still hurts. The pain is still very real. And I’m not denying that in any way. Acceptance of the absurd doesn’t deny it it’s power to inflict deep and lasting scars.

But letting go of the need for an explanation on some cosmic level for the reasons we are having to go through this and others don’t is to be free of the mental and emotional anguish of such thinking.

As such, I don’t blame God. I don’t think this is Her doing or Her not doing. I believe She is with me in the pain of it.

And so I am not angry with God, church is not hard for me to attend. And I think this is perhaps what people see that surprises them in the weeks following our second miscarriage.

This shift was painful. As Pete Rollins put it in his book ‘Insurrection’:

“…Often the more we suffer, the more we will want to hold on to our relegious ideas…We will want to repress the experience that everything that has sustained us thus far is inadequate, grasping at anything that will either provide a reason for our suffering (apologetics) or help us to avoid it altogether (distractions). When we suffer, there will always be an army of Job’s comforters who attempt to save our mythologies, and like Job, we must resist them.”

Sacrificing our mythologies – our previously held (and often unfounded) beliefs and reasoning – is painful.

“How we understand the suffering and pain of our lives will depend upon the mythology we bring to it. This is why the experience of the cross can be called a sacrifice rather than a mere loss, for there is something within us that must be courageous enough to let go.” (Rollins ‘Insurrection’ Pp 30/31.)

And maybe, just maybe, underneath all that absurdity, there is a holiness that is worth letting go for?

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