A few months ago, a well-meaning but
boneheaded person who is thankfully no longer part of my daily life
sat me down for a chat. “Arwen,” he
said, “do you trust God?”
“Uh, um,” I stuttered, because of course I do trust God, a lot of the time, and I know how important it is to trust Him, but can I truthfully say “I trust Him” without the reservation that I don't do it perfectly? I can't.
My reply was cut off; this person wasn't really interested in my answer. He just wanted to tell me how important it is to trust God, and proceeded to do so with a lecture that lasted upward of twenty minutes. He trusts God, I learned, and it has served him very well to do so. He recounted several instances, all of them financial, when he thought he was going to be in a scrape and then everything turned out fine at the last minute.
Which, great. I personally have found that God is always faithful, and always provides, although not always in the way I expect him to do it. So this person's point – that God is good – was well taken. I agree with him.
Except, it turned out, that was not his point. His point was rather convoluted, but I finally figured it was something along these lines: I'm suffering because I don't trust God enough. If I was trusting him properly, I would not be in this pain.
This is a common idea. Various people,
generally with good intentions, have told me this before, many of
them through the Internet. I have always found it very frustrating.
From a theological point of view (and it should be considered from a
theological point of view because it's a theological idea) it's one
of the most bizarre things I've heard. Bizarre because it's simply
not true, and because I would have thought that would be
Of all the people who have ever walked the earth, who trusted God the best? The man Jesus, followed by his mother Mary. The one who turned his life over to God after the Last Supper, and the one who turned her womb over to God at the Annunciation. The one who prayed “not my will but thine be done,” and the one who answered “let it be done unto me according to thy word.”
Yet how did this perfect trust keep them from suffering? It did not. On that first Good Friday so many years ago he suffered and she suffered with him, more than any human creature before or since. His suffering is the archetype for all suffering throughout eternity; her suffering is an example of perfect faith. How can we look at them, and hear “take up your cross and follow me” and still believe that we are meant to trust so that we may not suffer?
I've found that a lot of people think the pain of infertility is self-inflicted. “Just relax.” “You're worrying too much.” “If you just stop caring so much, it will happen.” These are not words of comfort; they are a kind of conceit for which I can find no appropriate description.
As someone who is there, I can attest that the pain of an empty womb is not self-inflicted; it is an objective wrong and I hurt because I know this. As a woman I know instinctively what my body should do, and my body is not doing that. The grief and bewilderment I feel as a result of this are unlike anything else I've experienced.
The tragedy of a fruitless womb is as old as the wind, as old as man himself. It's primal. Recognizing that and weeping over it is natural. More than that, it is justice. True tragedy demands true grief. A refusal to grieve on my part would be nothing but an act of flagrant denial, and I am certain it would save me no pain in the end.
But I am not only grief, for just as it would be denial to refuse to grieve, I would be denying the truth if I did not recognize that the One who allows me to carry this burden has dominion over all things. A virgin conceived by the power of his Spirit; anything is possible. Hope, even more than grief, is my constant companion.
Bryan and I have been waiting for more than two years. We'd be eager to go ahead with adoption or treatment, but we realize that we do not have the power to give ourselves a family. No matter how they come to us, our children will be a gift from God. Recognizing that, we are committed to discerning his will before we move ahead with anything. So we pray, constantly. We pray together every night; we pray separately throughout the day. I pray with tears and songs and silent questions; Bryan is at the office so his prayer is probably always silent. But we pray all the time, and so far we have gotten the same message: wait. Adoption and licit treatment are good things in themselves, but they are not for us, not right now.
So we are in this place of waiting. It's a somewhat surreal place, a place where hope and grief come like clockwork every month. It's a place where we learn, often very slowly, the paradox of life on earth: because of the fallenness of our world and the eternal goodness of our creator, sorrow and joy invariably come together, and we do not have the power to take one without the other.
I cannot complain about being here. I know that the one who brought me here is trustworthy, and most of the time my heart echoes what my mind knows; I am working hard to trust with my heart all of the time. I'd be lying if I said that just waiting was an easy place to be, but I'm more peaceful than I've been in a long time. Grief that in the past has bordered threateningly on despair has become clean grief, free of bitterness. Joy is fuller here as well.
And I have the consolation of not being forced to walk this path alone. Foolish people like the man at the beginning of this post are few and far between in my life. I have a husband whose goodness and love I cannot even begin to recount, and I can always find shelter in his arms. I have a father who constantly encourages me on what he has called my own via Dolorosa, and who wrote to me once, “You are never out of your Heavenly Father's heart; you are rarely out of mine (I have to sleep sometime).” I have a mother whose support of me is unswerving; I know that she is thinking with love of her “Punkin” even as she reads these words. I have sisters and brothers who don't always know what to say, but who love me with earnest sincerity through all of it, and who have found innocent hope when I could not find it; perhaps the constancy of their hope was a tool in helping me regain mine.
At the beginning of this year, I committed to holding on to my softness, and I think the venture has gone well. I believe I am now the softest person in the entire world. If I continue in this state until our hopes are fulfilled, I feel sure that the joy of that moment will overwhelm me utterly. What an amazing prospect. How could I hope for anything less?
This wilderness is the hardest place I have ever been, but through it life has become more meaningful than I imagined it could. Surely my presence here is no accident, and if it is no accident, I am ordained for it, and I would ask for nothing less than the path for which I am ordained. Through my grief and through my hope, that truth is always with me.