Michael’s in DC. Rosie and Anthony came and had dinner with me, but now they’re gone. I’m alone here.
Silence hasn’t always had the power to reduce me to tears. Sometimes it still doesn’t. But tonight’s silence does. Not hard, painful tears, but lonely, aching tears. The kind of tears that come from emptiness.
I was sad last week, too. Several times on the way home from work, I found myself suddenly crying. My job is fine; I enjoy the people I work with and the work I do, but it wears me out emotionally. I tried to figure out why I’m so worn, when in the past I’ve had worse jobs that didn’t make me feel like this. But I realized that it’s not the job that’s making me sad. It’s just that this is never where I expected my life to be right now. We’ve been married almost three years. We could have had two children by now, and we were always open to that. We certainly expected to have at least one.
I always kind of assumed I’d marry young, and when I did, I guess I just assumed that the rest of things would go as I’d planned, too. We stopped using NFP to avoid conception in the summer of 2003, as soon as we had an income. Even though I had two years of school still left, we knew that although it would be tight, we had the means to provide for a child, and we felt like we were being called to seek parenthood.
I wanted to finish college, and I knew it would be hard with a baby, but I somehow wasn’t bothered. Our decision brought me a lot of joy. It was absolutely right. The cynical side of me wants to sneer at the hopeful, innocent girl I was then – daring to think such a decision would even matter! – but the raw, honest me knows that it was important. I can’t explain how, but it was. Even though we’ve been waiting all this time, even though we don’t have children, we would be less now if we hadn’t said “yes” then.
I sometimes think about what that “yes” really meant. Clearly it didn’t bring us directly to the hardships, or the joy, of parenthood. It did open us up to suffering of infertility. God knew he wasn’t going to bring us children in these past two years, and yet he called us to give him that “yes.” It confuses me, especially when I think of how hopeful we were then, eager and a little scared, but ready for what lay ahead.
And knowing what he did – knowing that seeking conception would lead to not to parenthood, but to infertility – God still asked us to obey him. We were ready for a child. But were we ready for this?
In many ways, infertility has strengthened our marriage. I trust my husband more, I love him more, than I ever have before. I feel close to him because I am close to him. I hid a lot of me from him in the early days of our relationship, but he knows those parts of me now. There’s a lot of security in that. And I know him much better than I ever did.
But life – life and I are on shaky footing. I used to think I knew it well, could anticipate its curves and its valleys. Now I realize how little control I have. I’ve made little mental boxes, I’ve seen causes and effects and imagined that I could read from them. I’ve thought that life could make sense according to my rules. How wrong, how utterly wrong.
That discovery has shaken the foundations of my world, the foundations that I’ve spent twenty-two years building for myself. And yet, as they’re ripped up, I discover that underneath, there’s sand. Finding that sand, finding that all the boxes and walls I’ve made in my life really amount to nothing, is utterly terrifying.
These tears that come so easily and so often, the grief and bewilderment that sometimes hit me so hard, are proof of that terror. Sometimes at night I cry in Michael’s arms, and I can feel that he has no idea where this devastation comes from. I’ve no idea myself, much of the time. I’m just scared. Scared, period.
And yet… sometimes there are glimmers of something that promises to fill my emptiness. A few weeks ago I had an especially good hour in the chapel and came away with one word: surrender.
Imagine if there was a plan. Imagine if these barren years are not pointless years, even though they feel like that much of the time. In “The Hound of Heaven” there’s a line, God speaking to the fugitive: “All which I took from thee I did but take, / Not for thy harms, / But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.” And to that I, like Job, have nothing to say but a tiny “oh.”
The idea that getting what I want is not the best thing for me – mostly I am not ready for that thought. My heels are digging in and my fists are clenched. Wisdom and patience in the face of adversity are not my strong suit. Yet, when I forget myself I can acknowledge that I want my walls to be built, not by myself, but by my God. I want no shifting sand under me, but Rock.
When those walls are being torn down, when that sand is being blown away, when I am being sifted, I hate it. It is hard, and I feel empty, and I feel like it’s ridiculous for Him to ask me to make it through this. It’s too much to ask.
It's too much, but I have no choice. I have no power to give myself the thing I desire. Perhaps one day I will be grateful for that fact, grateful that I was given no choice to turn from a fire that might be making me the person I was meant to be. But on nights like this, the virtue that would seek that fire is far from me. I’m here, and I have nothing to give, nothing but my brokenness and emptiness. And a tiny, weak prayer that the grace to surrender will be given to me, because I don’t have it right now.