Monday, February 21, 2011

Just the two of us: Acknowledging the pain

Most people don’t know how to handle bad news. It’s news, and it’s bad. What more do you need to know? No one wants to actually hear it, and so it is hardly surprising our reactions are so mixed. We can be dismissive (“Oh well, you can always adopt”), needlessly optimistic (“You will have a family one day”), instantly problem-solving (“How much money do you need?). Some people try to make light of the situation (“At least you had fun trying), others just don’t know what to say, and so say nothing at all. Most people don’t know how to handle bad news.

And what about personally? How do you respond to your own suffering? Are you able to quietly persevere? Or are you more likely to dwell in the pain and let it consume you?

It is helpful when it comes to infertility, to acknowledge the difficulty that it brings. Whilst for some it will be only for a short season, it doesn’t reduce the pain. For others, it will be a lifelong sadness which even if eventually embraced repesents a different course to that which they had hoped. Few respond immediately with optimism.

So how should we respond to bad news? Again, it is easy to diminish the real feelings of pain and anguish felt in the face of childlessness with glib theological truths. Infertility hurts. For most people infertility comes as a surprise, yet we are told in Romans 8:22-23 that the creation groans as we long for the return of Christ. We will be subjected to pain and frustration in this lifetime. And in the God-given desire for children, it is understandable that as we experience infertility, it will be painful. In our sadness, it may even be helpful and appropriate to seek professional help in order to understand and manage our feelings and anxieties. We must remember that even as we seek professional support, God continues to work within us to bring about his good plans for our lives, refining us into people more like Christ and making us long for eternity.

Did you find comfort as this chapter worked through Psalm 22? Were you able to empathise and identify with the cries of David (and subsequently Jesus)? When we feel abandoned by God, the Bible shows us that just as God answered David’s cries for help (Ps 22:24), so he hears ours. In our suffering we need to call out to God, know that he hears us, and ask that his purposes would be accomplished through our suffering.

With infertility (and by extension, other forms of suffering), we must first and foremost acknowledge the pain. The best response my husband and I have received in our struggle with infertility was when a dear friend said in reply, ‘I am so sorry for you’.

And yet as soon as we acknowledge our suffering, we can just as easily fall into inescapable self-pity. It is easy to play the victim. I’m very good at it, actually. When I suffer it is common for me to pity myself. I mope about thinking that I am the only one who suffers like this. I know that God is sovereign, but I feel like I’m on the receiving end of God’s deliberate attempts to make me suffer. I know that God ordains everything in my life, so why is he making me suffer like this? It sometimes feels like God has left me to suffer all on my own.

Again this can leave us feeling somewhat stuck in the middle. We acknowledge the pain of life in this world, but we are not paralysed by our mourning.

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