“Where’s the heartbeat?”
That small question began us on a journey that so many other couples have travelled, the journey from expectant parents to grieving people.
We were excited to become first-time parents in 1998 — we had waited quite a while after getting married in 1991 and we were ready to begin the next chapter in our lives.
Unfortunately the pregnancy was far from easy –– there were hormones to take, lots of complications, and then the diagnosis of a cystic hygroma (sac of water) at the base of our baby’s head, indicating potential birth or learning defects.
Despite the doctors’ advice we continued with the pregnancy because, whatever would happen, God would prepare us.
We were not prepared.
On June 26, 1998 I gave birth to our firstborn, a girl named Rachel Ann. She was born still, and we grieved. Oh, how we grieved.
Some told us to “just have another one” as if babies were as plentiful as Tic Tacs or sticks of gum. A few told us that the Lord knew we wouldn’t be able to handle her medical issues so He just spared us by taking her home. Most said they were sorry for our loss. Some didn’t say anything at all.
October marks the 30th anniversary of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, a time when families and friends remember little loved ones who were gone too soon.
If someone you love has experienced the loss of a child, there are a number of ways to comfort and support to the family. Here are just a few:
- Celebrate Life
In the eyes of those who are grieving, it makes no difference if the child was miscarried after a few days or born still at full term. Where there was life, now there is none. The Psalmist reminds us that God knit us together, and we were known by Him from our earliest moments of life. So celebrate the life, no matter how briefly he or she lived.
- Honour the Child
Try not to refer to him or her as “the miscarriage” or “the stillbirth” when you are speaking to the grieving parents, but instead say “your child.” Ask if the parents named their child, and if they did then use that name in conversation. You may be surprised to know that even parents who do not know the gender of their child still use names or nicknames for their baby, so ask what they named the child and lovingly weave the name into conversation.
- Give Some Space
You may want to call, visit, hug, make meals and pray. But they might not be there just yet. Be available and ready to bear the burden of grief when the parents want to talk, but don’t push. Recognize that too much space might be seen as uncaring, and too little space can be suffocating. Watch for signs that the parents want to talk, or that they want to walk.
- Remember the Whole Family
Many guys go into caregiver mode after a loss, wanting to ensure their spouse is recovering well. But Dads grieve too, so remember to check in with them. Give them a safe space to talk or not, depending on how they are feeling. And the same goes for grandparents — they are experiencing all kinds of emotions as they process the loss of their grandchild. My mom told me after the fact that she was absolutely wrecked, but felt she couldn’t let her guard down for fear of upsetting me or others around me. Check in with all the family members and let them know you are praying for them.
- Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds
Grief takes as long as grief takes. The Bible tells us that there is a time to mourn, but it doesn’t qualify the statement with a timeframe. Don’t assume that just because “enough time has passed” (whatever that means), the family is ready for another pregnancy. It’s frightening, it’s daunting, and it’s kinda none of your business when they decide to try again — if ever. Time doesn’t heal wounds, but God in His mercy can bind up wounds, trade ashes of grief for the beauty of life. He heals.
If you have walked this journey of miscarriage and/or infant loss, my heart aches for you. But your story is not for you alone. Mark Batterson says, “If you don’t turn your adversity into a ministry, then your pain remains your pain. But if you allow God to translate your adversity into a ministry, then your pain becomes someone else’s gain."1
Maybe your ministry is comforting others with the comfort that you yourself received (2 Cor 1:3–5). Or maybe your ministry comes from realizing how alone you felt and you don’t want another man or woman to experience that sadness. Regardless, I pray that your ministry to others is informed by your experience with a healing, loving and merciful Father.
On Thanksgiving Sunday we spent some time in Habakkuk, a small book in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a prophet who was called by God to give a message to the people that judgement was coming because they had been so disobedient and spiritually dysfunctional. Frankly, Habakkuk is ticked with God that He won’t do anything about it, and that the people are getting away with their sinfulness. He writes,
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. (Hab 1:1-4)
Israel was in spiritual ruins, and God tells Habakkuk that he is going to use the Babylonians to judge Israel’s sinfulness (1:6). Habakkuk does not see this as a good thing and complains again, basically asking God, "Aren’t you able to do this some other way?".
God uses this moment to instruct Habakkuk about who He is, what He is doing, and how He is going to go about doing it. He also takes the time to remind Habakkuk about our proper response to God during times when we don’t completely understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. God reminds Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by faith”. There is a quiet confidence that the child of God can know that when we don’t completely understand our challenges, that we can trust Him.
Through a series of conversations between God and Habakkuk, Habakkuk finally comes to grips with what is happening. He understands that even though he and the people might suffer under the Babylonians, that God is still God and is sovereign and will be with them through it all.
Often the greatest tests of our fragile spirituality happens when we are faced with impeding suffering, pain and abuse. I am not talking about some fake, mask wearing, smile faking spirituality that tell everyone that “I’m ok”. What I am saying, and I think Habakkuk is instructing us, is that even when life is tough, God is there, doing something that requires faith and trust in Him.
The climax of the book comes when Habakkuk announces his reconfirmed faith and trust in God, and the song he sings is captured in chapter 3. For our time on Sunday we focused on three truths about cultivating a heart of thankfulness, even when we don’t feel like it or understand what God is doing. They flow out of the verses found in Habakkuk 3:17-19:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
Habakkuk realizes because of who God is, that he can...
- Thank God regardless of the challenges (17)
- Thank God for his salvation in the challenges (18)
- Thank God for God’s strength through the challenges (19)
So what was the take away for Thanksgiving Sunday?
Despite our challenges, what are we thanking God for? He has given us His Spirit to be present with us through our challenges, and that He ultimately gave us His Son, Jesus Christ. That through faith in His work on the cross we can find hope for this life and the one to come. Even while we wait and trust through the challenges we face, God’s strength is sufficient in our weakness.
I hope this is your experience with God. If you have any questions about this or about following Jesus in the challenges of life, I'd love to talk with you. Send me an email or set up a time to talk on a Monday night.
Pastor Aaron Groat
I'm a big story kind of person. Not necessarily the small details, but the overall larger story.
One of the things you often hear when working in youth ministry, is the question “Where does God fit in to my life?” … or perhaps “Where does God fit in to my story?”. Well, this fall our Students are working through a lesson series from Compassion Canada that tries to shift that focus. Shift it away from ourselves, and instead on to how we get involved in God's story. But do you ask that question of yourself? Where does God fit in to your life, your story?
In my early days as a believer, I had a very me-centred focus on God and what it was to be a Christian. I thought it was all about what I had to gain, about how God fit in to my overall story arc. And as I mentioned, I'm a big story kind of guy, I like to look at how the thing unfolds. So, in my late teens, God was just becoming the supporting character in MY story arc. But it wasn't until a few helpful and loving people stepped in, to show me the error in that logic, that I began to see that I was, in fact, NOT the main character.
I think too often we view God in that lens, from our perspective, from our story line. We're the main characters in the story of our lives. Everyone else is a secondary or supporting character. But is that really how it is? When you read the Bible, who's the main character? Is it the people interacting with God? or is God the main character, and all the people in the Bible are the supporting cast? I'd argue that it's the latter, that we are the supporting characters in the far greater story of God. We are the characters who are part of the cast, some of us have speaking roles, some of us nod, shake our heads, or otherwise react to what's happening in the scene in front of us. We each have a role to play in this story of life, but ultimately this is a story of God. Of His almighty sovereignty, His everlasting grace, His big beautiful plan for redemption. And because of that, we don't need to ask where God fits in to our story, but rather where we fit in to God's story.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Secondary characters don't pull stunts like this. This is the work of one really big main character whose story is bigger and better than anything this world could come up with. And I'd like to know more about how I can get involved in His story.
Mike Sanders, Youth Director
Each week we post about a range of things from the Christian life, faith and more.
In these posts we hope you'll catch a glimpse of ordinary people who serve an extraordinary God.