Thursday, December 13, 2007

Blessed are the Barren II

Last week I mentioned that the title of the new Christianity Today's cover issue was "Blessed are the Barren" and that such a title challenged me. I was thinking about it last night and wondered why the article's title caught me by surprise, when the same words in scripture never have. And I realized something. In my head, I've always translated the passage in scripture to read

Blessed will be the barren.

Blessed will the barren be at some unspecified future time when we are all restored to glory and can fully see the will and power of God. Not right now.

After all, the New Testament passage reads

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ “Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’ “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-31 [emphasis mine]

But if I read that carefully, it says that what is in the future is our acceptance or proclamation of the blessing, not the blessing itself. Perhaps when our eyes our opened with the fullness of Christ's presence, we will then be able to see and appreciate as he does. But Blessed are the barren.

I've been doing a lot of reading on infertility lately and one thing I've seen repeated more than once is the notion that infertility is a gift or blessing from God. I don't think I believe that. I think that God challenges us and allows suffering, but I don't think that I can say that it is God's will for our bodies to function imperfectly. I think that infertility is the result of a sinful world and it's one of the many consequences that abound. (Important distinction: infertility is a consequence levied on the world, much like disease, crime, etc, and not a specific punishment for the individuals who suffer from it). In His perfection He cannot thwart the cause and effect relationship of sin in this world so there is no fault in not "saving us" from it, but I cannot concede that He wills this on any of us. Perhaps I shall be proven wrong one day.

But, I do not think that means that He cannot redeem brokenness by working in it. His ability to glorify Himself and lavish His blessings is not limited by our malfunctioning bodies. As we know, His power is perfected in our weakness. Though we've walked this journey of infertility almost 4 years, the new developments in the last couple of weeks have really turned my world upside down and lead to a lot of soul-searching. And I have been surprised to discover that God has blessed us in this. My husband is the most wonderful man in the world and while I didn't think it was possible for me to love him more than I did, we've learned so much about each other through this. I've also learned so much about the character of God that I never would have learned had He not broken me of my "good girl" rules and the safe piety I always assumed in the name of "respect." How marvelous is it that in His withholding of parenthood from us, I learn how to be daughter!

Our pastor is one of the dearest men in the world. God has given him a tender, shepherd's heart. We saw him two days after our dreadful doctor's appointment and shared a lot of the ugly depths of our emotion with him and received no judgment at all. That Sunday at church, he just offered a hug and his prayers. I thanked him for not trying to "fix us" and he said "that's not what you need right now. There will be time for that, but not right now" and he encouraged us to just be honest with God in our feelings. I can't tell you how freeing that was for us! Exploring the depths of my emotion with God has been such a gift for my relationship with Him. I thank God for using PJ to help open that door.

PJ (my nickname for him, short for Pastor J____) has been preaching through Luke during this advent season, which has naturally included the tale of Elisabeth. At the beginning he also taught on Hannah, following another sermon earlier in the fall on her too. I was speaking to him after church last week, razzing him that I think he's on a mission to bring up all the barren women in the Bible. His response was not one I expected or intended. He confessed a nervousness that what he was teaching might be hurtful or make us uncomfortable. My first response to this is a praise to God that our pastor is not afraid to preach the truth, even if it's "offensive." The reality of it is that scripture is scripture, regardless of my personal experience. (However he never uses this truth as an excuse for insensitivity). I was also grateful for his compassion and sensitivity. He may never know how much those few moments of compassion he's given us in the last couple weeks mean to us. But lastly, I marveled at God as I considered PJs words that the scriptures he's been teaching through have NOT been traumatic or devastating for me. Somehow I feel a certain kinship with these women, though I know I have no promises (yet?) like they did and my story may not turn out the same. Even just a few weeks ago, I resented Rachel and Hannah and Elisabeth, for having their prayers answered with a "yes!" when we still hear "no" or maybe, "not yet." But how much God has worked in our hearts in just a short time! Suddenly I find myself devouring passages of scripture that not too long ago, hung heavy around my neck like a painful reminder of what God would not do for me. I take comfort in the fact that these women were dear to God's own heart, and their pain was not unknown to Him. Nor so is mine, even when my heartache tells me otherwise!

Lest the reader be deceived--I still have my (many!) moments of despair and brokenness. But they no longer feel purposeless. I no longer feel like my heart is broken just so all the little pieces can lie there.

So today I'm thanking God for the blessings he's given me today, while barren. His blessings and lessons for this trial in our lives are not withheld til some ambiguous future time. Even now, He redeems our brokenness. Yet just like Jesus wept for Lazarus, whose own broken body He knew he would shortly redeem, I know our pain is not far from the heart of God and even in the vast cosmos, we are not forgotten.