In what could be considered a mental exercise in futility, a personal question has been nagging me: How is the suffering of barrenness akin to the grief of losing a loved one?
I suppose it’s an unfair question since there are many nuances to each affliction, and everyone handles suffering and grief differently. But I’ll take a stab at it since I have been carrying both crosses — the death of my mother most recently, and secondary infertility seven years after my son’s birth — for awhile now. For those who know back-to-back trials like a well-worn shoe, this is my feeble attempt at processing it out loud.
As Christians who are given the life-giving Word which forgives, renews, and strengthens, far be it from us to despair when tragedy strikes or we endure years of longsuffering. Right?
Eesh. What an anvil of condemnation since, if we’re honest, we do despair. We also grieve and suffer along with any other human being on earth because of the Old Adam and Eve in us.
So when it comes to death and barrenness, it is natural that any and all feelings surface. And it is sadly normal that temptations to sin arise as we hold dear what relationship we had to our departed loved one and perhaps what relationships never will be, desperately looking into things where there are no promises. Both command soul-piercing attention, because there is a very real separation, divide (a hiddenness) between people who existed in this world and those who never may.
Such suffering beckons us to look at separation and spiritual hiddenness (and perhaps the anxiety and distress that naturally follow) through a Biblical lens. We know we are connected to all the saints in Christ, but far be it for us to deliver lofty comforts with verses such as “Be anxious about nothing” without compassion. We do well to allow God to put His Word together for us through His faithful under-shepherds, our family, and friends in Christ who can and do walk alongside us in our suffering.
Luther’s pastoral letters to several friends who suffered terrible losses are tender and convicting. He always starts by realizing the natural expression of grief, especially when it is so new. He recognizes and empathizes with the agonies. Luther then moves from his own empathy to confessing God’s inscrutable kindness in Christ’s ability to identify with our suffering, loss, grief, and loneliness by overcoming it all in His crucifixion. He concludes his letters with understanding our limitations and proclaiming that God gives us all that we need — namely faith — to sojourn this side of heaven.
“How should we conduct ourselves in such a situation? God has so ordered and limited our life here that we may learn and exercise the knowledge of His very good will so that we may test and discover whether we love and esteem His will more than ourselves and everything that He had given us to have and love on earth. And although the inscrutable goodness of the divine will is hidden (as is God himself) from the old Adam as something so great and profound that man finds no pleasure in it, but only grief and lamentation, we nevertheless have His holy and sure Word which reveals to us this hidden will of His and gladdens the heart of the believer.”1
So much to parse out here, but “finding no pleasure in God’s hidden will” stands out the most to me as such an honest testament in the midst of suffering. And still God delivers us. All to say that Luther as pastor is a beautiful example of all the faithful pastors, the family, and friends we have in our own midst now who empathize, gently encourage, and comfort us at the right times. It has certainly been what my family and I have experienced in coping with our own crosses. Thanks be to God.
How is barrenness akin to the loss of a loved one? Both can cause us to isolate or scatter from the fellowship of believers that God creates for our benefit. Then again, both afflictions can and do also bring us together because God knows we need each other. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away from us, yes, but He never leaves or forsakes us — though His presence is hidden under means. And sending faithful, compassionate Christians is one of the ways He abides. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
God grant us all the tender mercies we are promised through His Word so that we might grieve without shame, while confessing the hope that is within us in Christ. God give us the strength to accept our afflictions and serve one another in love. Amen.
- To John Reineck, April 18, 1536: Letters, 69-70 (WA Br 7.399-400).