I once described the doctor who walked with me through our pregnancy with Thomas and later our youngest son, James…as a man who was courageous enough to look upon the things that others are afraid to see, and to allow hope in a hopeless situation.
I wish I could teach that kind of courage, that kind of compassion. When I stand in front of doctors and nurses. I wish I could bottle it up and give it to people who cower away from the reality that babies die and other harsh truths of this world.
We are afraid, in our culture, afraid to acknowledge the difficult and painful things of this life, as if it’s a disease we might catch, if we admit it’s there. So, we skim over it. We ask “how are you” and we don’t really listen to the answer. And, we answer, “fine”, when in reality we are all kinds of broken inside. A dear friend recently expressed concern for me, because she felt my posts were showing the dark side of grief. In truth, I rarely express the dark side of grief, or the sheer numbers of those suffering with gaping wounds, those we walk with each day. But, the reality that such a hurt exists is hard for us to look at. Like the starving children on the TV commercial, or the homeless man limping past us asking for spare change. Reality is dirty and inconvenient and takes us to places of our minds that feel unsafe, unpredictable, out of control. We don’t want to know that hurts can hurt so deeply. We don’t want to know that babies die. We don’t want to know that cancer can steal someone we love. We don’t want to know the hard things. But, us not knowing doesn’t keep us any safer, and it doesn’t make those hurts cease to exist in the lives of those around us.
When a doctor tells a patient her child’s life is expected to be brief, he uses the words, “incompatible with life”. Words devoid of compassion and hope. Clinical words, like fetal demise and tissue are spoken in a hospital setting, referring to someone’s baby…a longed for and loved baby. I understand the need to distance oneself, to make the work scientific and the losses less…well, human. But, to a mother and father, there is nothing clinical about saying goodbye to the hopes and dreams they held in their hearts for their babies…their sons…their daughters. The prayers they prayed. The hopes they hoped. The love they already poured into their little families.
And, when well-meaning people tell a mother how to grieve the loss of her baby. She doesn’t want to make those around her uncomfortable. Who wants to know that babies die? So, she holds her grief inside and puts on a mask. She goes through the motions of her day, her life. She cries quietly, trying not to flinch in the face of the clichés being hurled at her in the midst of her brokenness. “It was God’s will. You can have more children. Time heals all wounds.”
Most of us walk around with masks, because it’s easier, and we don’t want to upset anyone. I spent so many years, not saying the names of my children, my babies…babies who lived, who grew inside my womb…babies who are always in my heart…babies whose bodies we laid to rest in tiny graves…because I didn’t want to upset someone. We don’t want to appear weak. We don’t want to make others uncomfortable. We don’t want anyone to know that we’re broken. That isn’t just for grieving parents. That’s for all human beings. We all are walking around with a limp of sorts, broken places hidden behind masks. I get it. We can’t go around spewing our messes everywhere for all the world to see. We must pull it together and function. But, sometimes I wonder if we hide too much behind our masks. Who are we to say that we should always “have it all together”? As Christians, we are sometimes the worst mask wearers, afraid to admit our struggles, to reveal our pain. Because a good Christian. One who trusts God completely, shouldn’t have such struggles and hurts. Right?
I suppose to that I would say…have you ever read Psalms? The anguish. The ups and downs poured out of David…the one God called a man after His own heart. Have you seen the struggles, the emotion poured out of a man like David? Have you read of the struggles to have faith, to trust…and of the stumbling on those honored in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews?
God has always loved broken vessels. And, He’s never been afraid to use them to bring glory to His kingdom, to accomplish His work, and to reach out, offering hope to the broken hearts of the broken people of this world.
I could keep the mask on, and perhaps that would make me appear to have it more together. Perhaps, that would make a more likely, more polished-looking leader of a ministry. But, I am choosing to be real. To enter in. And, to have the courage to look at the places that are hard to see. To see the beauty in every life. To weep with those who weep. It may leave me bedraggled and tired, noticing the heavy and ugly…leaning into the pain. But, it is real. And, not hiding. It is trusting my Savior with burdens way too big for me to carry on my meager shoulders. And, in that trusting…even as my own pain blends into the mix, my own ache of missing…in that trusting, there is healing. In my weakness, there is strength. His strength. In my desperate need, in my not enough…there is grace…sufficient, beautiful, miraculous grace.
Grace you don’t see when you’re hiding behind a mask.