Compassion With Conviction

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.

  1. To John Reineck, April 18, 1536: Letters, 69-70 (WA Br 7.399-400).

Gone So Soon

Death is a grievous disruption of the eternal life God has always  intended for His creation. So inarguably, the death of children most heinously depicts a world gone wrong. The robbery from raising and nurturing our little ones due to their untimely deaths (via miscarriage, stillbirth or otherwise) leaves parents seemingly mocked by Satan with this barrenness.

Just ask my sister-in-law, Sara.

Young and hopeful, Sara and her husband, David, began their marriage on May 25, 2002 like most Christian families; enjoying the gift of each other and looking forward to the days ahead where God might grant them children. And grant them He did. 

In January 2005, Sara discovered she was pregnant. Excitement naturally abounded in their family, but sadly, a few short weeks in, she suffered a miscarriage. They named this baby Emma.

The following year, Sara became pregnant again. However, the miscarriage occurred even earlier than the first. They named that baby Lily.

Less than a year later, Sara conceived in December 2006. She’d made it past the first trimester much to her relief. However, the nightmarish pattern once more descended, and the baby miscarried shortly thereafter. They named this child Joshua.

Sadness, confusion and helplessness understandably overshadowed Sara and David.

After three miscarriages in less than three years, Sara sought the advice of other doctors. Then one physician, Dr. Storey, discovered Sara was borderline Protein C deficient. This means blood clots a little too much, which causes insufficient circulation to what her system considers “unnecessary” parts of her body—including her uterus. Also, Dr. Storey told her she likely has Luteal Phase Defect; which means her body does not produce enough progesterone during the first trimester to force the body to stay pregnant.

When Sara conceived again for the fourth time in 2008, they were cautiously hopeful as her doctor prepared a specific treatment plan. Sara followed strict orders of minimal-to-no exercise, a baby aspirin to thin out her blood, and progesterone during the first trimester. She ever-so-anxiously nurtured their fourth child en-utero, and Hannah Lynn was born happy and healthy nine months later on December 13, 2008.

Finally, a child was born! Relieved and joyful, Sara and David were ever thankful to finally hold one of their children in their arms. So, when Sara conceived for the fifth time a mere 13 months later, back to Dr. Storey she went to care for this baby, too.

The first and second trimesters went very well. Adhering to the doctor’s orders, their fifth child–a boy they named Carter–was growing steadily and healthily. However, things took a turn for the unimaginable in her 35th week.

A baby shower on August 27, 2009 (Five weeks before the due date) lent itself to mixed emotions. Sara had had a doctor’s appointment three days earlier that affirmed Carter was fine, and yet, she hadn’t felt him move much at all that day. Sara went through the motions of the celebration, but was very preoccupied. The following morning, she called the doctor to schedule another visit. She didn’t even tell David, thinking her fears were getting the best of her. Unfortunately, it was one of  their darkest days that would follow several more. The visit confirmed that tragically, Carter Alan’s heart was no longer beating. Later that same day, they induced labor and beheld his perfect, still little body in the early morning hours of August 29, 2009.  Doctors discovered that the umbilical cord had become wrapped and tangled around his legs, which had cut off all blood and oxygen supply.

Even in the midst of such heartache and grief, Sara conceived a few months later, and they were blessed with a sixth child, Abigail Faith, born happy and healthy in September 2010.

Suffice it to say, the trauma of Carter’s death is, among all of their losses, a distinct grief still observed. Going through a pregnancy nearly full-term (where, in many cases, babies survive with medical care after week 28), enduring the labor pains and recovery, and dreading the reality that they would only be able to hold the shell—a perfect shell—of the son they once had, has been the source of much sorrow to this day. 


Luther suffered the loss of a child–a daughter, Magdalena, when she was only twelve years old. What is so striking in his writings proceeding her death is his immediate, unshakeable confidence (“I rejoice that she is living with her Father in sweet sleep until that Day.1”), and pangs of melancholy that he remained here on earth. (“ ...the world’s contempt and hatred for the Word of Grace makes me disgusted with life and seeing anything in this horrible Sodom.2”).

Incidentally, Sara and David seem to have responded in kind. Sara shared with me two passages of Scripture that have comforted them since Carter’s death.

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.Luke 18: 15-17

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5: 3-5

What bittersweet joy the unshakeable confidence God has given Sara and David in the midst of such tragedies. It is truly a gift borne solely out of God’s Word–namely the Word-made-flesh, Jesus; who has called all believers out of darkness and into his marvelous light. It is Jesus who gives us faith. It is Jesus who gives us hope. is Jesus who beckons the little children –yes, Emma, Lily, Joshua and Carter–unto him into eternity. Just as God told Jeremiah He knew him before he was formed in the womb, (Jer. 1:5) so too, God knows all of His children! 

God remembers the Janes family and continueally abides with them as He does all His people, through His means of grace.  Trudging this weary, earthly trail together, God gives us the strength to carry on to our blessed ends and to bear each other’s burdens (Luke 5:6). If readers would like to contact Sara, she has offered her email address:

The Tentatio of Family Plans

Understatement of the world: Life is hard.

We’re constantly warring against the devil, our sinful flesh and non-Christian views.  And we lose most of the time. No. . .apart from Christ, every time.

So is it any wonder why barren Christian couples worry and despair? Or those who’ve miscarried, delivered stillborns, or await seemingly endless months and years to adopt?  Life is hard. And with no guarantees of receiving children, longsuffering, it seems, becomes a part of who we are.

“Wait.” you might posit, “What about the good times of life? The feelings and states of contentment, peace and well-being?”  And you’d be good to ask that.  After all, even though we suffer, God is gracious to bestow on us these gifts, too.  However, our ability to recognize God’s many gifts might not be in the way we’d expect.

Luther points out that the devil and his enemies draw us ever closer to God. You read that correctly. . .the devil AND his enemies. He called it tentatio, or, spiritual affliction, trial, and temptation, which actually aids to drive us away from our selves and to God’s promises alone.

In Luther’s personal struggles against the Roman Catholic Church he stated his gratitude for his enemies: “For I myself…must be very thankful to my papists for pummeling, pressing, and terrifying me; that is, for making me a fairly good theologian, for otherwise I would not have become one…”(Doberstein, 288).

Today, those who would question us couples on our family size, or causes for why you and your spouse might be in the state you’re in is not a far cry from what Luther is talking about here.  These outside pressures and our own thoughts seem to constantly attack us; that is, until we realize that the blessing of children is simply not in our hands. And, by these very assaults, right theology begins to take shape.

Luther goes on to say that even the devil is of much use to our souls’ well-being:

The devil is used by God against his own evil purpose. “As soon as a person meditates and is occupied with God’s Word; as soon as God’s Word begins to take root in and grow in him, the devil harries him with much conflict, bitter contradiction, and blatant opposition. But these assaults (Anfechtungen) prove to be spiritually counterproductive, for by driving him to the end of his tether, they teach him ‘to seek and love God’s Word’ as the source of all his strength and being. In such a situation of temptation, he experiences for himself the power and truth of God’s Word. Temptation turns the student of God’s Word into a real theologian, because it exercises and reinforces his faith in Christ. He experiences the power of God’s Word in his own weakness. Paradoxically, he sees the presence of God and his grace most fully displayed under its apparent negation in adversity and trouble. Because he bears the word of Christ in himself, he must also bear the cross for it. But, as he bears his own cross, he gets to know himself and Christ whose glory was revealed by his death on the cross.” (Kleinig, “The Kindled Heart”, 147).

It should be no surprise that in weakness we find strength.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ demonstrated that on the cross for our salvation.  As Christ not only claims our souls but OUR BODIES in baptism, we are new creations that bear witness to the redemption of the world. Especially and EVEN as we suffer.  Barreness, miscarraige, stillbirth, adoption difficulties become our crosses. But they are also our blessings that drive us straight to Jesus.

What consolation we have! That no matter what afflictions we endure, the Holy Spirit is tirelessly drawing us unto Christ through God’s Word and our baptisms, which proclaim “NO” to death,the devil, and our sins and “YES” to forgiveness, life eternal and salvation through Jesus.

Moreso, how much closer a God can we have when we partake of Him each Lord’s Day in His Supper?  The very body and blood of Christ given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins and strengthening of our faith?  This truly is the peace that passes all understanding.

Life IS hard. And this side of heaven, it will not relent.  Nevertheless, as we trudge this weary trail together, God is making us theologians of His cross, so that we might be consoled to life everlasting; whereby in our death, tentatio will die, every tear will be wiped away, and we will live with Him in everlasting peace and blessedness.  Thanks be to the ever living, Triune God!

Works Cited:

Kleinig, John. “The Kindled Heart” Lutheran Theological Journal (August-November 1 9 86), 142- 154.

Notes on “Pastoral Formation: Oratio, Meditation, Tentatio,” by Professor John T. Pless found here:

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