Tuesday, March 17, 2009


So, among the other things happening in my life right now (which do consist of more than shooting myself subcutaneously in the belly every night), it's Lent. I've never been big on giving things up for Lent, although it's not a bad idea. What I have tried to do is think more intentionally about my life and my faith during this season. It's a particularly good time to think about the potential meaning of any suffering in your life - in fact, if you go to worship during Lent, it's fairly hard to get away from that theme since most of the bible readings have something to do with that.

[Also, for the sake of honesty, and before you say, 'well, just don't go to church during Lent,' I should mention the fact that I am a pastor. So, not going to church is not really an option. And although I had intended NOT to talk about my profession in this blog - only because it comes with a lot of baggage that I get tired of - I find that I just can't write this particular entry without being truthful about such a huge part of my life. Okay. Confession over.]

I'm preaching this week on two stories about wandering around in the wilderness, and I'm finding that this is a particularly apt metaphor for my life at the moment. While rooting around on the internet searching for helpful preaching ideas (i.e., alternating between textual studies available online and reading the People magazine website because you never know when the love life of Tom Brady and That Giant Model Lady, or some new Lohan chaos, might be helpful to mention in a sermon), I came across an article which talked about the idea of an "involuntary Lent." The author, the Archbishop of Los Angeles, put it this way:

In prior years when our life and financial security were far more predictable, Lent meant we could choose which special sacrifices we wanted to undertake - but just for six weeks, until Easter Sunday. And then back to normal.

But now we have a new reality: we aren't choosing our sacrifices this year, they have chosen us. And they aren't just for six weeks: they have been our burden for over 75 weeks now, with no end in sight.

Obviously, he's addressing the economic turmoil which affects all of us to one degree or another. I admit that said turmoil is affecting me to a very slight degree, for which I am thankful, and about which I also feel a little guilty. But it is deeply affecting people I love, and that is grief enough.

One of the great struggles of this infertility journey has been the questions it raises for me about faith, and about why things happen, and about my relationship with God. I've done some serious thinking about why shit happens in the world, and my highly theological and astute reflections can be summed up as follows: it just does. God did not smite me with infertility to teach me something. It is not the will of God that I not have children. God is not trying to tell me to adopt. After serious theological and philosophical consideration, I have made some peace with the fact that shit happens, and it's happening to me, and that's just how it goes sometimes. As with any darkness in life, this one has pointed out some of the bright spots: I have a loving and supportive husband; I have some great friends and coworkers; I have damn good insurance, all things considered; I am basically healthy and able to handle the difficulties of this treatment cycle. All good stuff.

And I am finding a lot of meaning in these wilderness-wandering stories lately. The truth is (as far as I can tell), there is not a lot of helpful Christian thinking out there about infertility. A lot of it seems to be along the "pray harder, have faith, God is working for good, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" kind of line, which doesn't do much for me. You know how many people in the bible "just had faith and it all worked out"? Pretty much none. Nobody. The people of the bible screw up, get mad at God, make HUGE mistakes, doubt everything they are supposed to know about God, complain on a regular basis, turn their backs on suffering, and, in general, completely f&ck everything up. I realize that this helpful Biblical Summary is unlikely to make it into the Christian bookstore, but that's the point: the bible is a lot more likely to commiserate with our struggles than it is to tell us to shape up, have faith, and put a smile on your face.

So, back to the 'involuntary Lent' - that seems about right. The wilderness wanderings of Israel were, in every way, involuntary. This wilderness of mine is, in every way, involuntary. I do not want to be here - I want the promised land, the child, the late nights and the crying jags and the dirty diapers and the sweet smell of baby powder. And yet what I think I need, as much as I believe I need that promised land, is some way to find meaning in this particular wilderness. Without resorting to cliches like, "God works in mysterious ways." (Which is probably true. But not all that helpful.)

This 'sacrifice,' this particular stage of my life, is not of my own choosing - it chose me, for some unknown and probably unknowable reason. Even now, even in the midst of it, I can see some of the ways in which I am becoming a better person, someone with more compassion, a bit more patience, someone who realizes now, more than before, that each person we encounter may be fighting a battle, walking through a wilderness, which may not show on the outside, but which is worth empathy and understanding. Could I have learned these lessons any other way? Probably. Did God make me infertile so that I would learn this stuff? Hell, no. But here's the thing I struggle with most: if I don't at least try to learn something from this involuntary Lent, then it is worth nothing. I don't know how this story will end. I believe I will make it to the promised land. I believe strongly that our child is on the way. But I cannot know that. And I can try to make choices which redeem this struggle in some way, which transform its darkness now into some light, later. Maybe much, much later.

Things do grow in the wilderness. Slowly, usually. And they need to be hardy to survive. But it does happen. May it be the case for me, and for you, if you're in this wilderness too.


  1. Wonderful post -- thoughtful and rational; timely yet timeless. Such a nice contrast to the so-often unhelpful ways that people address infertility through the lens of religion.

  2. Wow. What a thought-provoking post! And, we get to learn something new about you. I especially relate to your second-to-last paragraph. The first two years of our struggle with IF were horrible, and I made some really bad decisions and hurtful actions. I've learned so much from that time, and the time following. It has definitely made me and my husband better, and stronger. I like the way you presented it, as something we didn't want that was set upon it, but we should learn from it what we can.

    I'm not a religious person, but I have to say that your preachings sound pretty wonderful.

    Thank you for this post!

  3. Thank you for this post. I needed to read this. I too have not found much helpful Christian thinking regarding infertility, but I think it's because I haven't been looking in the right places. The people in the Bible knew about suffering. The fathers and mothers of the church knew about suffering. And I don't read about any of those people saying "if I just pray harder/have more faith, God will give me what I want."

    Recently, I was expressing frustration about a popular Christian movie in which an infertile couple gets back on the right track with God, and then gets pregnant. "Why couldn't they make a movie where the couple follows God, but they don't end up getting pregnant? Is it that most Christians can't handle the thought of not getting what you want, despite doing all that God asks of you?" My husband remarked that they should make a movie of John the Baptist's life--including the "happy ending" he experienced. (not to mention pretty much everyone else in scripture--Paul, Peter, and countless others throughout history, etc.--I suppose they weren't praying hard enough or faithful enough to be saved from being killed?)

    I need to post on this again myself--sorry for the overly long comment! But thank you again. This ministered to me.

  4. Ahhh, the dark night of the soul. It's easy to "believe" when things go well. When you think even G*d has turned away from you, THAT's when the true opening begins.

    It even happened to Jesus, on the cross. I wondered, why should I be exempt?

    The Dark Night cracked open my heart and my soul.

    I love that you closed with knowing that things grow even in the wilderness. The light and love exist even in the darkness because Love is all.

    Wishing you peace and surrender of your will. And opening. Divine opening.

  5. Thanks for posting this. It makes so much sense to me. My "transactional" approach to faith (you know, do all the right things and God will give you what you want) was pretty much obliterated about 11 years ago, and I still find it RARE to hear a Christian statement that makes sense to me. This does. Thank you.
    (also at www.projectprogeny.wordpress.com - came over from LFCA/Kirtsy)

  6. What a wonderful post - and just what I needed to read. Thank you

  7. I love the idea of taking something rotten and making it useful. That resonates with me for so many reasons right now. I think you've really got something here.

  8. It reminds me of this post http://shiftyshadow.blogspot.com/2007/10/apology-of-sorts.html It is the not knowing when the wandering will end that is part of the torment of this journey. I sometimes wish that God would just knock on my door and tell me what was going to happen, then I could do it, get my head around whatever it was - because it surely can't be worse than the death of my daughter - but, when a friend asked recently if I wanted her to pray that for me (well, maybe not God knocking on the door but an understanding of the direction were headed in), I said no. I am too scared, and to afraid to give up my hope. And I think it's pretty mean of God to ask for that too, considering how much I have given him already.

    Does God really want me to trust Him with my Hope for the future (I'm talking about this world, not the next)? He seems so ruthless.

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  10. Actually, I think faith has almost everything to do with how people in the Bible got healed. In Mathew 5:24-34, a woman is healed when she touches Jesus and he says her faith has healed her. In Matthew 9:29, Jesus heals blind men according to their faith. In Matthew 13:53-58, Jeses visits his hometown, but did not perform many miracles b/c of their lack of faith. There are many more mentions of faith. I know it may seem as if Jesus is required to be there for the healing to occur, but I really do believe that our faithfulness in accordance with the Word of God and our love and patience will lead us to the desires of our hearts. I know I'm not the authority though, and I'm still learning myself, but just thought I'd share. Great post though!

  11. glad you have gotten so much good feedback on this post, dear friend. much deserved.

    we really should write that book, eh?

    good start here.

    involuntary lent indeed. sigh. joy does come with the morning, just no telling when morning will come. and yes things do grow in the wilderness. and i hear a hope and trust in this post that is beautiful. thank you.