“Well the results are back. Sarah, your ovaries are those of a woman 10 years your junior. You are a spring chicken! Alex, your sperm counts are well within the normal range with average motility.”
Whoa. Okay. I guess all these years of running unpronounceable medications through my body have not taken the toll I had feared. The years of abusing alcohol and smoking cigarettes won’t deny us this opportunity, this role, this life. I’m starting to feel all of the feelings. I start running through baby names and thinking about teaching my kid how to drive a stick shift. Briefly I entertain the sweet and terrifying possibility of twins.
It’s a bit overwhelming, until I look to my right and see Sarah. I feel her sweaty fingers interwoven with my own. She looks unmovable. Skeptical? Yes, probably. She is low on hope, that much I know. She’s been starting to protect her heart by lowering her expectations, each month anticipating the bad news of no news. But she’s never doubted her desire. Not for a minute.
This journey towards parenthood has been an uneven one for me. Insecurities about myself as a provider, fears about the future of my physical health, and a new understanding and ownership of my selfish tendencies have kept me from experiencing the excitement that I see on other’s faces when they talk about becoming a dad.
This is not Sarah’s story. Sarah was made for this. She lived 36 years of life for this moment. Her confidence calms me, and the next 30 years flash through my mind. I sense a warm ease wash over me, and I breathe. I nudge my chair closer to hers and grip her hand more tightly. Our time has come. This is one of those moments that people talk about when reflecting on their lives, when they remember exactly what they were wearing and what the room they were in smelled like.
“You guys are going to have a baby.”
Waves of feelings now, the full range of human emotions presenting themselves simultaneously in the same body.
Confidence. We have the confidence of one of the top fertility specialists in Florida working the case, and he just told us we were (eventually) going to have a baby.
The story of that day didn’t end with unfettered excitement and joy. Maybe it was my anxious spirit, maybe it was a moment of discernment. More likely what came next was some protective mechanism that ensured I wouldn’t be hurt by his words. “But wait, I thought. You may be good at your job, but I don’t think you have the right to tell us something like that. My name isn’t Abraham and you, sir, are definitely not God. Don’t tell Sarah she is going to conceive a child based on your subjective assessment of some man-made clinical exams and imperfect lab reports.” Here comes the spiral.
I couldn’t tell you what happened during the handful of minutes as we finished up our appointment. I became lost in my head, toggling back and forth between excitement and frustration. I would guess that there was a smile on my face, but no one would have seen the fear in my heart.
That was two years ago. Since then, we have experienced great loss and are just learning how to lament. The last conversation with our fertility specialist was less hopeful than the one I referenced above. “Unless you have unlimited financial and emotional resources, I would probably recommend considering adoption at this point.”
It’s been messy. It’s been desperate. Life for us has been barren.
Walter Brueggemann, widely considered one of the most influential Biblical scholars of the past century, provides a glimpse of hope for all of the ways barrenness presents itself in our lives.
“Barrenness is the way of human history. It is an effective metaphor for hopelessness, but the marvel of Biblical faith is that barrenness is the arena of God’s life-giving action.”
“It is part of the destiny of our common faith that those who believe the promise and hope against barrenness, nevertheless must live with the barrenness. Why and how does one continue to trust solely in the promise when the evidence against the promise is all around? Can the closed womb of the present be broken open to give birth to a new future?”
We have hindsight to see God’s redemptive work in the lives of Abraham and Sarah. And for Rebekkah. And Rachel. And Hannah. And for my friend Julia. And my friend Lisa. And my other friend Lisa. For me and my Sarah, we grieve while we wait. But we trust. We believe. Some days more than others.
In his podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves, Adam Young reveals how lament requires you to feel the emotions your body is producing, and to acknowledge them verbally or non-verbally. He goes on to refute the posture our Christian sub-culture often holds towards anger, offering that our honest lament could in fact be indicative of a longing for deeper relationship, not a selfish, shallow one.
“We seem reluctant to use the language of lament because it seems to be an expression of distrust in God rather than trust. These words of lament depict the anguish of the soul but are characteristic of a life of deep faith. It takes more faith and trust to take our sorrow to God than it does to push down what we are actually feeling. Job’s lament took him to getting angry with God, to engaging fervently with God, holding God to account for his actions, and ultimately having a conversation with God.”
(Episode 16; Why Lament (surprisingly) Leads to Life and Freedom)
The story you have been reading today does not (yet) carry a pretty bow on top. I would love for this piece to end with an exciting announcement from Sarah and I. I would rather be writing about redemption and perseverance today. Instead I write an invitation to grieve your wounds, to live an authentic life. Maybe your career feels barren, your spouse doesn’t respect you, or your body betrays you with illness. Maybe your children have let you down, or you grieve the way you parented them. Maybe life has felt like a lonely journey for you. I am offering a humble challenge to find someone who will bear your grief with you, someone who is not afraid to experience all of your emotions with you. Find a space to bring forth your fears, your anger, your sadness. Bring your lament!
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