Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

I was listening to a sermon illustration this morning, I think I was holding my breath and saying in my head, “Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it.” And he didn’t.

Have you ever read those devotionals, the happy being single ones? There are a lot of single Christian ladies out there who have been conditioned to expect to be married and have children. Someone who was single piles on the wisdom of how to be happy and single in a church and then in at the end praises God that He led her to the perfect man and now she is happily married. The implication is that singleness is not a godly state to be in. To be truly fulfilled a woman needs to be married.

Or maybe you have read those devotionals, the content the being childless ones. Not everyone has all the bits necessary to have children, but, yet again Christian wives are conditioned to expect children and a quiver full. There’s more wisdom on how to deal with barrenness. Hannah gets a mention as does her prayer. Then after all the heartache, the writer ends by saying that just like Hannah, God gave her children.

The speaker this morning was preaching the next in a series of words based on Psalm 23. We have got to the bit about walking in the valley of the shadow of death. It’s not a leading up to death word that is saved for funerals, but a daily life word for when, not if, we go through difficult times. It may be sickness, unemployment or debt. Sometimes it’s not what you do but just where you find yourself. It happens to us all.

This man’s valley was in the area of pregnancy and childbirth. There was a time when his wife came out the bathroom waving a home pregnancy test. The line was thick and blue announcing the pregnancy. The first hospital scan took place. Things were not going well. The baby’s heartbeat was weak and slow. They were told to wait a couple of weeks, go back and see if things had changed.

The man and his wife and probably everyone in the church were praying. They were urgent, messy, passionate prayers. It’s this part of the narrative where I’m thinking, “Please don’t say it. Please don’t say it.” I wanted them to have a happy ending. I wanted the story to come out well. More than that I wanted their story to be just like mine. There was a miscarriage. There was no happy ending. I can’t say I was glad there was a miscarriage. I’ve been there, done that, shed the tears and I wouldn’t want any woman to go through that.

I’m not sure what I would have felt if for all the urgent, messy and passionate prayers, the baby had a strong heartbeat and was delivered safely however many months later. It didn’t happen that way. There was a miscarriage and I thought, “I’m not the only one.”

The word spoke so powerfully to me. I had not accepted my miscarriage in any passive way. I was praying powerful, faith-full words. I was begging God to save my child and it didn’t happen. When I fell pregnant a second time, I tried not to think that I’d been down that path before when I began bleeding early into the pregnancy. It was, however, another miscarriage.

My pregnancies happened through fertility treatment. It didn’t help that many of the ladies in the church disapproved of the treatment. They wanted a proper miracle. They wanted Hannah. I’d seen what trying to be Hannah had done for other women, how hard it was on the emotions, and always that sense of failure that was not said but felt. I wasn’t a young wife. I didn’t have decades to wait. I didn’t want to give birth in my forties and have a child while claiming a pension. I believe that God gives medical know-how to doctors that Hannah did not have access to.

To know that someone else had walked through my dark valley and experienced my road – and had prayed just as hard as I did for a happy ending that never came – I felt understood. This man, I thought, can speak into my life because he has been where I have been. I didn’t begrudge the next pregnancy and the strong baby heartbeat that he experienced. Just knowing that he knew my path was enough. He knew my unhappy ending.

The other thing that came to mind, I think it was a forgiving of myself. I’d always held in the deepest parts of me, the places in me that I rarely explored, that it was my fault I’d miscarried. I questioned whether my prayers were passionate enough or whether I really had faith to see God act. Perhaps the whole fertility treatment was, as the women in the church insisted, not God’s plan.  Maybe I was Hannah and all I needed was patience.

I will say this, I never once felt, through that difficult journey, that God had abandoned me. I was always swift to come into His presence. I cried endless tears, but I never came to end of God’s comfort. I am not a person that thinks God is any less than God, if what I want doesn’t happen. God will answer my “why?” when I see Him.

I laid it all to rest. I never went on to have children, but I believe that God opened up another way for me to be creative. I began to write poetry.  It’s not God’s second best destiny for me, but the one He always planned for me to step into. 

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