Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” – CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
January 2007 was pretty terrible. Just eight or nine weeks before, we found out that my wife was pregnant. This was something two years in the making and we were utterly elated. We felt it was safe to tell close family at Christmas. Then, two weeks later, it ended. The ultrasound showed death. After death, five years and tens of thousands of dollars invested in solving the problem, it still exists.
Over the past two years or so, I have slowly accepted that we are one of the 1 in 6. You may not know what that means, but they are the couples who politely nod when you innocently tease them about “starting a family.” They are the ones who skip baby showers and seem to miss the “special” services that center around motherhood or fatherhood. They are the ones who do not get invited to the “first birthday parties” because they do not have a little one to take to the party.
They are in your pew, or seat if you don’t have pews. You serve them communion. You preach sermons to them. You pray for them. You hopefully know them, but maybe you don’t.
You have to realize a few things. First, they may not meet the expectations of family, masculinity and femininity you are unintentionally setting. Second, they are still human, made in God’s image. Third, there is pain, loss and something you should enter into with a level of appropriate love. Fourth, saccharine comments about “that couple who stopped trying and had twins” are pretty hurtful and they have probably heard them from tons of well-meaning Christians. Fifth, acknowledge in your teaching that this pain exists and show how God is still there.
What can you do? Invest, love, know, share, and think. Sometimes a hug might better incarnate Romans 8:28 instead of quoting it. And, please, realize you may not be able to answer the why questions for them. Why the child abuser instead of us? Why us when we’ve done all the right things?
No 1 in 6 has the same story but somehow they share a messy story that is wrong. Be honest about it. The TV show How I Met Your Mother, hardly a champion of Christian morals, has dealt with infertility more times than we Christians seem to. Where are the sermon applications, blog posts, Christian conferences and “Gospel centered” books that deal with this issue? Let’s take the lead.
I will never forget that terrible January. I will also never forget one of my favorite people, Wayne Sparkman, at the PCA archives, who pulled out a book of letters written by a Puritan pastor and handed it to me. He showed me a letter written to a young woman who just lost a newborn. In that, the pastor related his own pain and how God grieves with his children, but still offers hope. Reading that letter, full of real life helped me make a little sense of the mess. Five and a half years later, I hope I can help others make sense of it a little better too.