I’ve never being great about reading the Bible but recently I’ve been reading the Psalms all the time. For most of my life I read the Bible because I was supposed to and I felt guilty if I didn’t. Then later in life I did it for intellectual and academic purposes. Now here I am and reading the Bible feels like breath. The Psalms give me words for parts of me that I hardly know how to articulate. They give me prayers when I’m speechless. They help me grieve when I’m tied up in knots. They offer solidarity in the full range of emotions. They’re a bit of clarity in the chaos.
It appears I have learned something in all of this pain. I look back at who I was in early pregnancy before everything went south. I had just found a newer and deeper sense of faith after a year of intensive spiritual practice and study. I had chosen to believe. Then we got our baby’s diagnosis and I saw my minds ideas for the thin beliefs that they were. I got mad at God for a while, I wrestled with the notion of his goodness, muttered wordless painful prayers, sustained the shattering of the delusions I had about my future, and then finally at some point, belief found me. I was suddenly believing in a very deep part of my soul, it was something that felt profound, something that felt given to me, and something that felt unaffected by life’s cliffs.
I’ve been doing a lot of work to understand God’s involvement in our world, his intervention if there is any, and his goodness and power related to pain and suffering. In the middle of it all and in my darkest place I had a perspective shift that I wrote about earlier which released me from figuring it all out. I have found some clarity in the bigger picture of God’s sovereignty, but I have stopped trying to find out the minutia of how it plays out today.
I heard this quote from David Bentley Hart, who wrote an essay in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami.
…of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines…Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue His creation from the absurdity of sin and the emptiness of death, and so we are permitted to hate these things with a perfect hatred…As for comfort, when we seek it, I can imagine none greater than the happy knowledge that when I see the death of a child, I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy. It is a faith that has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead.
That last line of Hart’s quote – It is a faith that has set us free from optimism, and taught us hope instead – it’s all my inarticulate thoughts encompassed.
We are released, potentially via pain, from the clenching of our fingers around this life. We no longer need to fight for the perfection of our tomorrows, which will undoubtedly fail us. And once we finally and truly see this, it has the effect of offering a hope that is unaltered by circumstances. It frees us into joy, and moves us from wishful thinking about our future and into an unshakable hope that exists beyond this life. But first, we must be pealed back from our optimism, we must have our expectations shattered, and that shattering changes us. We no longer have the luxury and the delusion of the plans we make, so that even when life gets a little easier, our scars will forever remind us that we wait for something more. Another’s pain we no longer objectify while thinking how grateful we are that at least it’s not us, and instead their pain reminds of what has always been true - that it keeps hurting until the day we’re rescued and then suddenly it’s somehow worth it.
I was laying on yet another ultrasound table staring up at those ugly square ceiling tiles. We were doing a follow-up cardiac ultrasound and they were meant to be confirming Colette’s diagnosis of DORV and looking to see if there was another heart condition our doctor was concerned about. This second condition would mean immediate surgery and likely working with Stanford’s cardiac surgeons due to the complexity of the issues. Earlier that day I was at breakfast with my Dad in the morning and when Trever picked me up to head to the appointment he had a song blaring from before he got out of his car. He turned it down but it was a blast of a chorus that says, “for endless days we will sing your praise, Oh Lord, Oh Lord our God.” I hardly noticed it until I was staring at the tiles waiting for our results and singing the song in my head over and over.
It was representative of a heart change in me that was given to me and nothing I earned. I sang it waiting for a doctor to tell me that my daughter would have low chances of survival. I sang it anyways. I sang it without contingency of a miracle. I sang it until the doctor interrupted us to finally give us the news, which is a moment we have learned to deeply dread. Then the doctor told us that he had misdiagnosed her and that the first condition was no longer present, and neither was the second, and that she had a narrowing of an artery that may require surgery but is significantly less concerning.
And so what do you say? I weep in gratitude and find myself wordless.
But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God. Who has not turned away my prayer nor his lovingkindess from me.