Cul-de-sacs and Bridges

A Christian blogger I follow recently posted a heartbreaking update to living with her painstaking illness. What was hard to read was the profanity in her post title and the absence of Scripture in her lament. She said (in a few more words) that she was not suffering well. My heart sank as I continued to read her post and hear her grieving heart through her honest words. I quickly prayed for her comfort.

What this post spurred was a genuine conversation between me and Tricia. Our responses as we processed this post were different from one another. We both felt how honest expressions of suffering can sometimes make us uncomfortable. And as such, suffering causes our hearts to reach for a respite and solution. But in which direction will our heart move? As helpers and sufferers, do we respond through our wisdom or run to our familiar comforts? Or do we turn to Christ, our Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6) and Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3)?

One of my favored illustrations about suffering describes how easily we get caught up with the world’s solutions to our pain, trying and testing the options repeatedly. But this pursuit leaves us in a holding pattern, in other words, like driving in a cul-de-sac. Oh, how I have lived this looping and hopeless path. But Christ does not leave us in our unceasing state of circles. He gives us the only way out: Himself. We see this throughout Scripture with the bridging word, yet.

We see this in Jonah’s pain in chapter 2:4-6

Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.

We read 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,
he 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.

And in Job 19:25-27

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

Oh, how our Lord loves us. As helpers, we can embrace these biblical truths, reminding us that our sufferings and those we care for have a way out of the “cul-de-sac.” May we never forget the bridging “yets“, the promises of Christ in our pain and infliction. And please, join me in prayer for those who desperately need to hear the gentle but lifesaving yets. God’s promises are the only remedy, reminding us our pain is temporary; we can fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, the eternal glory and future in Christ (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility by Sandra Glahn & William Cutrer, MD

I initially read When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility to enhance my knowledge of infertility as I support people navigating through it. I was pleasantly surprised by Glahn’s open honesty regarding her own experiences and insights and Dr. Cutrer’s compassionate contribution from his medical perspective. In this invaluable guide, Glahn and Cutrer emerge as a reliable source for couples navigating the challenging infertility journey from a biblical perspective. With millions of Americans grappling with fertility issues, the authors address, in a concise way, not only the medical aspects but also the emotional and spiritual challenges that often accompany this challenging path.

What sets this book apart is the discussion of the spiritual struggles individuals and couples may encounter during this trying time. The authors also tackle topics such as “Is infertility a punishment from God,” “Why is God allowing me to suffer, and “What does the bible say about infertility?” My favorite chapter was What Do We Do with Our Anger, in which Glahn discusses the importance of expressing feelings of anger and grief to God through lament. She states, “We need to let our emotions take us to the Psalms, where we pray the time-tested prayers that move us from lament to praise” (p. 111).

Each chapter concludes with thought-provoking questions encouraging further reflection and discussion, such as “What, for you, is the hardest part about not having children?” While the book is a bit older (2010), the case histories and personal testimonies add a human touch, making the factual information relatable and timeless. One hindrance for me is the chapter on the grieving process set forth by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kesler. We at Reproductive Loss Network, and many people today, observe the grieving process as an individual journey rather than experienced in stages as one time observed. RLN also offers grief training using a biblical grieving model.

In summary, Glahn and Cutrer’s book explores a wide range of infertility topics from medical, biblical, and personal perspectives. It is a must-read for couples seeking guidance and understanding in pursuing parenthood and a profitable resource for those desiring to help those impacted.

Held by Abbey Wedgeworth

We at RLN are compulsive readers, especially books on reproductive loss and grief. A large part of this is because we want to refer to rich, Bible-based books that will give you tools to help comfort others during seasons of grief. This week, I found a gem of a book I just had to share.

If you are looking for a book offering encouragement for a friend or client who has experienced a miscarriage, Abbey Wedgeworth’s book Held is a beautiful choice. Having experienced the sorrow of miscarriage, Wedgeworth offers small glimpses into her own story and those of others, encouraging sufferers that they are not alone. However, the most helpful aspect of the book is how Wedgeworth gently guides the sufferer to the endless grace of God through the gospel message.

Wedgeworth uses Psalm 139 to produce a Word-saturated, accessible, and thoughtful gift. Held offers a brief reflection for the day, followed by additional passages to read, a reflection prompt, and an opportunity to respond through journaling. The book’s simple, short, and insightful structure makes it a hopeful and relevant gift or resource for giving to a hurting friend. If you’re looking for an opportunity to learn more about Wedgeworth, she discusses her book on The Good Book Company podcast here.

Comforting Others in Our Weakness

Recently, I met with a friend who shared the loss of her granddaughter, who died at 20 weeks in utero. As we sat in our local sandwich shop, we cried together over the loss of the baby, the grief she shared with her daughter and son-in-law, and the dreams she and her husband had of being grandparents. The sun shining through the restaurant windows on that clear winter afternoon seemed to taunt us as it cast happy rays on the faces of people enjoying their day. For a time, we sat in the shadows.

I am often amazed that I work in this grief-care space, teaching others how to help people suffering after a reproductive loss. I frequently introduce myself as one who has “said all the wrong things” to hurting people. Embarrassed yet hoping to offer encouragement, I blurted untrue and unhelpful sentiments. As I have wrestled with my weakness about saying the wrong thing in situations, two specific truths come to mind that can help our grieving friends with the hope the Lord has offered through his Word.

First, we are reminded that the Lord draws near to those who are hurting. He is already there at the restaurant, coffee shop, or family gathering. The ministry of comfort involves the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31), God, the Father (2 Cor 1:3,4), and Christ, the Son (2 Cor 1:5Phil 2:1), who is abundantly qualified to comfort man. Dane Ortlund writes, “Our pain never outstrips what he himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.” We can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that God is already there, near to those in need. His presence has already begun the work at hand.

Second, God has called us to care for His sheep, which means that when they suffer loss, we need to be there for them by making ourselves available in humility and gentleness (Eph. 4:2). In the past, perhaps you have not been a student of your words or deeds in this area. But God is kind to reveal this to us when we ask Him to be the the person who offers the comfort and wisdom with which Christ comforts us. We can console each other through a gentle hand on the shoulder, a silent embrace, or shared tears. Other times, meaningful words are shared. In every case, it means taking our eyes off ourselves and looking outward to help others. It means, in the words of Benjamin Warfield, “Not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives—binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.”

Hearing our friend’s stories are a precious gift. Our conversation continually can point to Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor who brings the ultimate comfort to the suffering soul. With that knowledge, we can rest assured.

What is Reproductive Loss?

My colleague, Tanya, and I travel quite a bit for work as we speak at seminars, attend conferences, and provide training. On any given flight, we are asked where and what we do, and I can tell you, it’s not always sexy for others to learn that we are reproductive grief and loss educators. Some people will tell us their precious and sacred stories, and others will not look us in the eye for the rest of the journey. On one such flight, Tanya sat beside a beautiful young woman who asked what the purpose of our trip was. Tanya quietly mentioned our travel plans, then sat back to see where the conversation would lead. Soon, the woman looked up at the air vent, hoping to find the meaning of these words there. She hesitatingly asked, “Miscarriage?” Tanya breathed out, “Yes.” After a long pause, the woman asked, “Abortion?” Again, Tanya answered, “Yes.” Finally, the woman looked up, searching for words in the sky beyond the plane, and asked, “Hysterectomy?”

Yes.

The woman went on to share with Tanya how she had to have a complete hysterectomy at a young age and was now grieving the children she would never bear.

Reproductive loss is any experience of grief in a person’s life related to their reproductive health, decisions, fertility, the outcomes of a pregnancy, or the creation or care of their family[1]. It can involve the pain of miscarriage, the agony of stillbirth, perinatal and infant loss, and the complex emotions tied to infertility, assisted reproduction, and abortion. It also extends to adoption, children born with congenital disabilities, and any loss affecting a person’s reproductive well-being.

Reproductive loss is a widespread and often unspoken part of life. Miscarriage alone accounts for a quarter of all pregnancies, resulting in about two million losses yearly in the United States. Yet, it differs from other forms of grief in that parents who have experienced reproductive loss may have limited tangible memories of their baby. Their loss is silent, and they often grieve without the support or recognition they need to heal. Additionally, when individuals form deep connections with their unborn or newborn children and experience any loss, grief inevitably follows.

Knowing that many people struggle with reproductive loss is half the battle of becoming a source of understanding and empathy for them. Because it is a private (or scary) topic, we seldom delve into these particular and painfully common tragedies. Thus, distressed women and men are not receiving the biblical guidance they desperately need. Instead, struggling with their pain in isolation, they often seek comfort and answers online, where much of the content they stumble upon focuses on the emotional dimensions of losing a child rather than applying the truths of God’s Word to their grief. While they find empathy in the articles they read, the profound hope embedded in the gospel of Jesus Christ is missing.

With just a little bit of information on this topic, we can listen to these stories with empathy and offer the hope and comfort afforded us in Christ Jesus.

Tricia Lewis, Co-Founder Reproductive Loss Network

 [1] Flores and Lewis, 2023; Earle et al., 2008; Price, 2008; Roth, 2018