I mentioned in my last post that I decided to take a break from church for a little while. So far everyone that has spoken to me about my decision has been supportive. But I know that most likely there are people who read my post and don't understand my decision. So I want to give a bit of back story.
When we lost Samuel, our hearts were broken. In the storm of grief, we found ourselves lashing out at each other. We were new to grief, never having lost anyone closer than a grandparent. We didn't realize that we would grieve differently and sometimes those differences seemed to push us apart.
We lost Samuel in the midst of Easter season. As I said in my last post, our church was observing the Daniel Fast, a 3-week partial food fast, and we were encouraged to bring something--a problem, a question, a desire--to the Lord and implore him for guidance, an answer, or provision. The fast ended Easter Sunday and a few weeks later, at the end of a church service, the Pastor invited us to celebrate the ways that we'd seen the Lord meet us miraculously during that season. My husband and I had to get up and leave, it was so painful to be in the midst of that celebration knowing that we had lost a dear child the very weekend that was the focus of celebration. Thankfully we ran into one of the associate pastors who knew our story and walked with Nathan through this pain, he prayed for us in the lobby. When we got to the car, I reflected that if the lead pastor had been willing to give a small caveat, a qualification to the celebration, something along the lines of, "Now I know that not everyone received miracles during this time. In fact some of you may have heard painful 'nos' from the Lord. But I want to invite you to rejoice with those who rejoice even as we've mourned with you,"... if there had been some sort of acknowledgement of the pain that we were in, I would have been able to enter into that time of celebration. As it was, I left in tears, feeling isolated and mostly alone.
We decided to talk to a couple of counselors from our church; we knew we needed help. By the time we landed in their office we were in a better place. Between the Sunday of celebration and our meeting with the counselors, I remember sitting at church, being broken in such a sweet, tender way by the Lord. I don't remember the sermon or the context, but I remember sitting in a chair, feeling for the first time that the Lord was my Father, sitting next to me with his arm around me, grieving with me. As opposed to sitting up in heaven with my baby (there was a subtext there that I wouldn't allow myself to voice: he was in heaven with the baby he had taken from me).
So when we arrived in the counselors' office, I felt like I was on the upswing. I was seeing the presence of the Lord around me, I knew the right answers to my deepest fear (I knew the Lord did NOT take my baby), and Nathan and I had reopened lines of healthy communication and were supporting each other well.
I felt like I was just starting to recover. We stepped out in faith and tried again for a baby, getting pregnant right away. When I did the math and realized I was due March 18th, right around Easter, I secretly hoped that I could take it as a promise from the Lord that this baby would live. Maybe a redemption of the previous Easter. New life where there was once death (not that Cora would have replaced Samuel in any way, but my mind was and is, eager to draw meaning from numbers that supports my own desire).
When we were losing Cora, I subconsciously tried to pray differently, hoping to yield a different result from the Lord. I thought I could manipulate the Lord to do what I wanted. After we confirmed her passing, I actively tried to lean into the Lord's presence, I didn't want to repeat the silence we shared after Samuel died. I wrestled with questions of why I believe, what do I expect of the Lord, and why do I pray. But somewhere along the way I lost sight of my hope. It's like physical therapy after an injury; it hurts so much but you've got to keep it up. Sometimes it's easy to convince yourself that you're all better and you don't need help to recover anymore so you stop doing the hard work of healing. That's pretty much what happened to me, I stopped leaning into the Lord and my pain.
The pain was too big for my heart to bear. So I stopped. I stopped thinking about the Lord or my lost babies. I took on more hours and responsibilities at work and poured myself into caring for my amazing family (they are pretty stinking amazing). And the thing is, when you've grown up in a family of Christians who are thoughtful about the faith they hold, you know all the right answers. Knowing all the right answers kept me from asking the questions that were dwelling in the deepest places of my heart.
In December when we attended church and the pastor said what he did, to the effect of, "People who are faithful are blessed", I just felt my heart constrict within me. The only conclusion to draw from that statement is that people who are not blessed must be unfaithful. Does that mean that God didn't bless us with Samuel or Cora because we weren't faithful? This was my deepest fear, one that I wasn't able to bring to light yet. As we left I realized that my heart was pulling away from the Lord. At the time, I was okay with that. I was comfortable continuing to go through the motions without bringing my pain and questions to the Lord. (I think my pastor meant well and he didn't say exactly that, but in my hurt, that's what I heard him saying. I don't mean to start drama, but I share because this is part of my story.)
I think my turning point came later in December when I had the chance to join my husband and his co-workers at Regional Staff Conference for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. While we were there I had the chance to fellowship with fellow wives and mothers and I shared with two women about the year we had. One of them asked a few questions like,"How are you coping?" that helped me to see the ways that I hadn't really dealt with the pain of this year. Her questions helped me to see that I couldn't keep up the pace that I was using to keep myself from the Lord. I wasn't without the Lord and healthy, I was without the Lord and unhealthy. Something needed to change. She encouraged me to take a day of retreat, something that my husband is incredibly supportive of (he's really the best, Happy Anniversary honey!!).
So I took a day, went to Barnes & Noble, and bought "A Grief Observed" by CS Lewis. I read it in one sitting at the B&N cafe. The book is the journal that Lewis kept after his wife died. This book was indescribably helpful for me. Lewis is one of those people whose theology is well-respected in my family and to hear him asking questions of God like, "how can he be good?"... well, it gave me words for my feelings and freedom to express them. I realized that I needed more than a monthly or bi-monthly day of retreat to recover. I needed weekly or daily time to read and re-discover my faith.
So I decided to take a break from Sunday morning church. This should give me a minimum of a weekly time when I have the house myself and I'm able to bring my questions and my emotions and my pain to the Lord. My intention is to continue on in our Small Group and in community with other believers. Recently Nathan returned from National Staff Conference with InterVarsity and he was impacted by the speaking of John Ortberg (more on that later!). After discussing one particular part of the conference with Nathan I realized that at church I've been surrounded by some people who are in denial to the pain and suffering in the world, believing that victory has already come. On the other hand, I've been in despair, unable to see the hope of the work of redemption that's currently in progress. Being around people in denial has pushed me further into my own despair. Taking a break from church is chance for me to rebuild my foundation and reclaim my hope. I have every intention of returning to church but for now I need some space to heal.
I'm beginning to hope again. And I believe that the Lord will meet me here, in my honest questions and my brokenness.