“I don’t see a heartbeat.”
Those six words sank like anchors. The sonogram image, pulsing with life only days before, showed a scene that was at once familiar yet devastatingly surreal. Our doctor confirmed it, and we saw our hopes for parenthood end. Seven weeks into pregnancy, my wife, Aimee, miscarried. It was our second miscarriage. We sat in stunned silence as tears streamed down our faces. During the days and weeks that followed, the weight on our hearts grew as we grappled with the onerous presence of grief and sorrow.
Our story is similar to many couples in our church. For years, we longed for a family but struggled to conceive. As the months passed after the miscarriages, our grief morphed into something different, something darker. When other couples announced a new pregnancy, there was a mix of gratitude and the piercing reminder of our own barrenness. We celebrated with friends while fighting back anger and the feeling that God heard others’ cries but not ours. We resolved to wait patiently on the Lord, but inwardly our hearts screamed injustice.
A New Way of Seeing
Often a blog post on infertility and miscarriage will include helpful pastoral advice for those seeking to minister to hurting couples: what not to say, how to respond, how to pray. This is good, and we were the recipients of such care in the weeks and months following Aimee’s second miscarriage. Many of our brothers and sisters demonstrated the tangible presence of Jesus through shared meals, patient and loving conversation and prayer.
But what if what’s needed most is heart change from within? While grief is the appropriate response to loss, Aimee and I still battled to see past our tears and find rest in the Lord.
We believed that when the time was right—the time we determined—God would give us children. Whether we admitted it or not, we believed that we had a right to this, and when it didn’t happen, we responded in anger and bitterness—unseen anger at others, but more pointedly, anger at God. Being parents became so important to us that we began to look there for hope and identity.
But through His Word, God began to change the way we saw our suffering.
God’s Mercy in Our Suffering
In John 11, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. This account is a window into the hope of all believers in Christ: though all people will suffer and die, there will be a day when Jesus returns and we are raised with Him to eternal, physical, glorious life. Yet Jesus’ dialogue with Martha, Lazarus’ sister, reveals an additional layer to this hope, one that is both present and personal. After Lazarus dies, Jesus says to Martha in John 11:25-27:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
I’ve always seen this statement as Jesus’ way of foreshadowing what He was about to do in raising Lazarus from the dead. But there’s something striking about Jesus’ words here. When Jesus said this to Martha, Lazarus was still dead. Though He would raise Lazarus, Jesus, in effect, is saying, “Martha, even if Lazarus stays in this tomb, you still have Me. And if you have Me, you have everything. Do you believe this?” This promise is as much about Martha’s present treasure in Christ as it is about Lazarus’ imminent healing. It’s also about in whom Martha placed her hope. Was her greatest desire to see Lazarus raised from the dead, or was it to see fully the inheritance she would receive in Christ?
As my wife and I considered our story, we perceived Jesus asking us the same question. If we never conceived, would we still believe that He is our greatest treasure? If we never heard the first cries of our child in a hospital delivery room, would our hope still be in Him and the power of His resurrection?
As these questions settled on our hearts, we realized that our answer to these questions was yes. It was His mercy to us to reveal through our suffering that our greatest joy and hope is Jesus. In fact, I don’t know if we would have recognized it any other way. Though we had experienced profound and devastating loss, we weren’t lacking anything. We were His, and He was ours.
Ministering Out of Mercy
This realization gradually changed the way we saw our story, and it also changed how we ministered to others. We wanted others to see that, despite the good desire for a family, our greatest hope is who we are and what we have in Christ. As we came into contact with other couples, we sought to love in the same way we were loved by others and to speak of God’s immeasurable love revealed in Christ. We didn’t seek to minimize the present effect of suffering, but to pray that God would reveal His mercy through their sorrow.
If your story is like ours, take heart. God is using your suffering, whether infertility or illness or loss, to not only reveal His glory, but His mercy. He is weaving the varied threads of your experiences together so that more than anything, you might know His goodness in all circumstances. He is revealing, piece by piece, that if you have Jesus, you have everything.