The day was beautiful. We sat at a picnic table in the shade of a eucalyptus tree hung with yellow balloons. It was a birthday party, and we ate and laughed and ran around the park with the kids.
There were so many kids. Leah Beth and David had two children, Becca and Andrew another two, Katie and Joey had one and another on the way. We had been trying to become pregnant for a year, but our arms were empty.
The sun was too hot, the park too full, the perfect foil for my empty womb. I joined the kids at the playground a while, talked half-heartedly about teaching with the moms, and finally settled in where I often did in those days—hovering at my husband’s elbow, half-listening to the dads talk about theology and church and family and future. That was easier than listening to chatter about baby food and toddler development or—worse—knowing I was the reason such a natural subject was avoided.
An hour into the party, I could no longer hover next to Dave. The pain gnawed at my belly, and it was spilling out. Hiding my tears, I ran to the bathroom.
The cool concrete structure mirrored my heart much better than the glare of the sun outside. It was empty, quiet. The fluorescent lights were sterile, unflattering, clinical. I liked them that way. I locked myself into a stall, wrapped my arms tight around my chest, and screamed the silent scream of loss. What was wrong with me? Why was my body so broken, so unable to do what I thought God created it to do? I murmured “why” after “why” aloud to the dirty metal walls. The emptiness of my womb burned like fire. I sobbed in that empty bathroom under the sterile lights and let the fire consume me. I surrendered to grief.
I remembered the birthday party. I doused the fire, not yet spent, letting the coals continue to ravage my insides. I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath, and headed back into the sunlight with a smile. I did not want to have anything to explain.
Grief in the unknown: It is baffling. How do you grieve the loss of something that never was? I had so much need in that time. I was ragged, broken, trying to keep it together enough to be appropriate in public, then screaming silently behind closed doors. How else could I function? We have to go on at times like that. There is no choice. So I danced back and forth between grief and pretending.
Where was God in all of this? In my heart, God was distant, angry. I assumed God was disappointed with me and maybe didn’t love me much. In reality, I was the distant, angry one—distant, often, even from my own emotions. What would it look like to lessen that distance? What would it look like to enter the darkness unafraid?
I began, slowly, to make space for grief. I started with a simple practice of welcoming my emotions. That practice led to others, and I became less afraid of my own darkness. One day I would believe, whatever my circumstances, that God loved me and was near. The journey toward hope began with this small step.
An Invitation to Practice
How do we come to know the tender places within us in order to experience God’s love more fully?
- Pay attention. Are you angry today? Do you find yourself more easily frustrated than usual? Did something happen that brought you to tears? Are you overwhelmed with gratitude or pride in an accomplishment?
- Pause. Take some time to allow yourself to feel that emotion. If you can, go into a room alone and be still. Dance if you’re happy or cry if you’re sad. If you are in public, go to your car, or to the bathroom. Welcome whatever it is that you are feeling, allow it to course through you, to wash over you like a wave in the ocean, and to recede.
- Mark this moment. Write a simple poem in your journal. Create a crazy hodge-podge art piece. Copy the words of a Psalm of praise or lament. Throw a rock into the ocean or throw a party. Whatever you do, invite God along.
Adapted from A Good Way Through: My Journey with God from Disappointment into Hope, coming in spring of 2017.
This post is part of our September Creative Prayer theme.