Grief, Grace, and Gratitude
This week I have been thanking God that I am a 21st- century woman. Until very recently in human history, women really did not have rights. Their safety and security were dependent on the men in their lives, at least from a human point of view. In many parts of the world, that is still true.
So when I read of the circumstances in the lives of Rachel and Leah in Genesis 29 and 30—their polygamous marriage to Jacob and the birth of their sons—it important to understand the background. Women depended on their fathers and then husbands to provide for them in the present, and their sons secured their future. What a lot of stress and pressure and feelings of being out of control!
What fascinates me about Leah and Rachel is the way they name the pain and messiness of their life experiences in the naming of their sons. The very names of the twelve tribes of Israel remind us of the labor, the difficulty, the messiness of life in which this family, this nation, and our faith was birthed.
Reflecting on their experience brought to mind my own experience. Over a decade ago, I was in a great deal of pain as my husband and I had been dealing with infertility for many years. We longed to be parents and to have a family. This experience was one of the most difficult of my life. When my expectations about life were unmet and the deep longing of my heart was unfulfilled, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. Everyone around me seemed to be having children. In fact, one summer, I prayed for nine women who were struggling with infertility, and amazingly they all got pregnant. But I didn’t. I couldn’t understand this. I wanted to please God. I wanted to live for him. Why would the giver of life not give me life? Like Rachel and Leah and so many others in Biblical history, we waited and grieved and wrestled in prayer. We pursued some treatments, but at one point I knew it was time to stop or we would be crossing a line of taking things into our own hands rather than leaving them in God’s hands. So we had to accept that we would likely not have biological children.
Through this experience, which I assure you was long and arduous, I moved—not outwardly but inwardly. That is, God moved me from one place in my faith journey to a deeper journey. I had to accept that my understanding about who God was and what he would do for me needed refinement. I had to accept what it means to live in a broken and sinful world where things go wrong. I had to let go of what I thought my life would look like and accept the place where I was, trust God there, and allow him to lead me into the calling he had for me. There is always a choice when we’re called to move—to keep pushing to get what we want by our own human efforts, and to become bitter that God did not do for us what we thought he would do, or to trust him for who he is and to accept the life he has given us as a gift and a blessing.
I am grateful for some of the ways that Rachel and Leah modeled how important it is to name our human experience and live into it, as hard as it sometimes is. But I also know from experience that we don’t have to stay there. I’m learning that the outward circumstances are merely opportunities to live by faith as I trust the love, goodness, and promises of God. The messiness of life can open up new opportunities for God’s grace to accomplish for us what we cannot accomplish on our own.
Infertility was a painful but purifying experience that has borne fruit in many ways. I am more rooted in my identity as a beloved child of God. I have more deeply experienced his love and goodness and peace and joy. I have a greater sense of how blessed I am in Christ and a deeper sense of what it means to be called to be a blessing in all the moments of my life.
God did bless us with two wonderful boys through adoption. Rather than choosing names for our children that represented the grief of our experience, we chose names that reflected God’s gift of grace in blessing us with a family in the way he chose for us. Nathaniel means “gift from God” and Ian means “God is gracious.”
While life is still messy and there are always challenges, God’s grace abounds, his gifts are innumerable, and there are always reasons to express gratitude.