I know I write about this a lot. This is how I process through it, really. And I’m processing it again. But here it is: I really don’t know what faith looks like in this place.
It’s a sad reality that when I discuss our situation (and I’m sorry if you’ve heard about “our situation” from me a hundred times, but here’s the rundown: expecting a baby with a severe heart defect that will require surgery almost immediately after his birth, my husband’s lack of employment, not knowing how to pay our already-mounting medical bills or other basic expenses while I’m on unpaid maternity leave), some adopt what we’ve come to call a “Pollyanna” attitude about it. God will take care of you. Things are going to be okay. It will all work out. Let go and let God. If you have to go back to work two weeks after he’s born and still in the NICU, you should view it as a blessing in disguise. You can handle this.
While I appreciate the good intentions of those who offer these words, more often than not, all these attempts at simplicity and comfort manage to achieve is a minimization of our situation that infuriates me. Any one of these dilemmas would be bad enough, but the union of them all together makes for a thorny reality that none of us can brush aside. These words are band-aids on bullet holes, and it is in those moments I want to invite the people who say these things to inhabit my reality deeply for a time, to take upon themselves my thoughts and emotions and questions, to follow me into the closet when I close the door, fall on the floor, and fall apart completely, weeping from a depth that is bottomless. I wonder if they would be able to say those same things. I wonder if they heard those same words from someone else, if they would find them a warm blanket or a blast of cold.
We have faith. We have believed: in God’s provision, in His wisdom, in His timing. And we are still in a place where we don’t know how any of this is going to work out or in many instances, how we should act: we have no clear sense of whether or not we will even be one of the fortunate sets of parents who will come home with the baby they birthed, the baby whose movements they have felt and experienced for months on end, whose life they have witnessed squirming and stretching through his mother’s skin. This is a reality that we don’t dwell on, but must acknowledge. We cannot presume upon anything.
We are working, thinking, and praying with every last fiber and blood cell we have, wondering what God wants us to do. There are no promises about the outcome. There are no clear directives on what decisions to make. And it’s not because we haven’t been listening. We have been asking God and listening, interjecting our pleas and waiting. We are in a season where, like the mountain I sometimes see on my drive to work, God looms large in the distance, but is ultimately still and silent. I know, rather than feel, Him there. He is under a cover of clouds and veiled with an impenetrable an inky night. Job experienced this, mystic spiritual masters like St. John of the Cross wrote extensively about it, and recent saints like Mother Teresa lived it: the dark night of the soul.
I used to be afraid to say that that’s what this is. That’s for spiritual giants and I’m just a normal person. But now I don’t need to ask or question it or be afraid to call it what it is now, because I know. Dark nights are for normal people, too. Dark nights are those places where our ability to sense God in any way is gone, and where we are continually brought to the end of ourselves and asked to go still further. Where we feel like we have been stripped of everything we possess, and asked to give still more. God is deeply present in these dark nights, but in a way that is imperceptible to one in the thick of it.
It would be a mistake to say that there are not shafts of light that pierce the dark night – many moments of laughter, of profound joy as we prepare to embrace the mystery that is this child, that is parenthood. But it is joy that lives in the hollow of a crucible, in a place where layers of dross rise to the surface in the boiling heat and are skimmed off, in a place where we find the ends of ourselves again, and again, and again. And we know: we have deeper yet to go.
Perhaps these ends, these peelings away will increase our capacity for joy. Perhaps in coming to these ends we will learn to lean more fully into our invisible God, and come to know what it means to draw on His strength instead of defaulting to our own. Perhaps we will taste the faith the ancients did when they reasoned God could raise the dead and so held knives over their only children, when they stood in the blast of heat from a fire meant to incinerate their flesh and said, God can save us. But even if He does not, we will not bend the knee.