Before and after Faith

Three weeks before I wrote “Faith,” the most recent post here on Common Life, Jennifer and I saw an ultrasound room’s light flick on, the machine shut down, and the picture you see above land in our hands. A week after I wrote “Faith,” we returned to the same room, the light was kept off for several minutes, and no picture was printed from that day.

Now, months after my wife said her part, I’ll say mine. I’m the father of a lost baby named Faith. Here’s what I shared with friends in the days following our miscarriage:
—–
We’ve named our child Faith. I saw the tiniest heartbeat in a fuzzy oval last month. It was enough to believe that life was coming. That’s like faith. But now, I see nothing, which underscores my belief that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Our child is a living reminder of what life on earth feels like as we walk out of the half-light into the full-light; as we walk out of knowing in part to knowing in full; as grainy images on a screen give way to face-to-face encounter.
—–

How strange it was to have written that post, “Faith,” just days before seeing an empty womb. Just days before going home with the worst evening ahead of us, before filling the bathtub, before seeing the water blush and bloom with blood. Before hearing my wife drag herself through the devilish questions of whether she “did something that caused this.” Before the first time I thought about the ho-hum words of Jesus (“let the little children come unto me”) in a fiercely new and wondrous way that moves me tears. Before feeling so, so sad. Before doubling over in the kitchen with tears, and then more the next day. Before recognizing how big rooms have begun to feel, and how empty, and how suitable they would have been for at least one more of us. Before thinking about our apartment in the city that was waiting for us, and how we got the two-bedroom unit that would have plenty of room for siblings next year.

I’ve joined a club that no one signs up for, but here I am. “I saw their heartbeat.” That can’t leave my brain. I can’t un-see it, though for now our little Faith is unseen. And in this way, I feel that a very real part of me is already in full view of the beatific vision of God.

Why did God allow our child to die in the womb? I have no answer. All answers seem reductionistic. No, dear reader, God didn’t let it happen this way because “He knew we just needed more one-on-one time with Audenae,” or maybe because Faith would have had a debilitating disease that he/she was spared from. No, give me the sleepless nights and even tighter budgets. Give us the 1000 appointments, treatments, and inconveniences. They’ll just make us more selfless and sacrificial anyway, and isn’t that what we want? Please don’t persuade us that our baby dying was somehow made up for by the freedoms or conveniences we’re now sure to enjoy. These are no comfort and no guiding light to us in darker hours. Please, avoid saying such things to parents who have lost children. It flattens the suffering down to a formula. Remember the words of Paul to the Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Become a professional at this.

Insisting upon a reason for the loss will cause us all to miss a very rich, dark current of Christian spirituality, which is that “in [our] flesh [we are] making up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). When suffering sinks its teeth into us, it lands on the raw bone of faith—faith not in a reason we can identify for why our baby died, but faith in a mystical union with God who confers everlasting life and fruitfulness to us expressly through His full embrace of suffering. A servant is not above her master; a man of the Spirit will share abundantly in Christ’s comforts to the measure that he will share in his sufferings (of “various forms,” as St. James observes). The question is not “why, God?” as much as it is “how, God?” How are you pushing us deeper into the heart of our hidden life in you, especially in the eyes of the watching world? How are you manifesting your goodness in the midst of terrible pain, like two colors set in sharper contrast? How can I render to you the full range of my life circumstances to tell your story—so well acquainted with suffering as it is? How are you giving me a savor and longing for heaven? What does that watching world need to see, after all, but Christians enduring virtuously and inexplicably through suffering, all in imitation of Jesus?

I have heard Jennifer remark that many may wonder how we maintain faith in or affection for a God who, by all accounts, didn’t directly answer our prayer to let us give birth to a living baby. I have heard her say, “That’s funny, because without God, this experience would have completely devastated me. I’d fall apart.” She’s right. I’ve seen how it’s those already outside belief and life in Jesus Christ who cite the existence of suffering as damning data against God’s goodness (or even His existence). “That’s funny,” I say to myself, “because here I am, suffering, and the data is pushing us closer to fuller faith in His goodness.” It stands to reason that those who criticize Christianity as a most unhappy and incoherent rule of life are themselves quite unhappy and disoriented when suffering collides with them. Yet when the disciple of Jesus encounters suffering, she considers herself within the folds of His very hands, mingling her blood with His blood, hiding in the marks of His passionate suffering, offering up all possessions as gifts on loan, birthing sorrows that turn to joy in the darkness, somehow, someway, sometime maybe not now.

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