There was one "issue" conspicuously missing at the Image of God Conference. In the presence of so many discussions and presentations about how part of being in the image of God is to beget; with all the talk of contraception, abortion, divorce, illegitimacy, cohabitation, etc. the issue of how to provide pastoral care to those dealing with the issue of miscarriage and stillbirth was noticably absent to me.
Our theology readily confesses that life begins at conception, but in pastoral care, the very reality that God blessed a couple with a child and that child died before the parents could even look upon its face is often not treated as the tragedy that it is. Instead of the grace of God, the couple is often presented with trite phrases:
- "don't worry, you can always have another one."
- "at least you already had two kids."
- "It was God's will."
Or statistics like:
- "25% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, so its bound to happen."
- "they say that first trimester miscarriages happen because the baby was genetically deformed. It's actually merciful."
To hear this from co-workers and neighbors is hard enough, but from those who are in the Body of Christ, and most notably from one's pastor, is something that should not happen. It does not matter that the parents never knew what color their baby's eyes were, what his laugh sounded like, whether he liked cats or ponies, or if he had 10 toes or 12. They lost their child. The beautiful blessing that God provided to them died, and everything in our sinful being screams out that it should NOT happen.
Often, the father's grief goes completely unacknowledged. Neither one of them know what to do with their pain. Sometimes, even they feel bad because they feel more than they think they ought, and definitely they feel more than the world seems to validate should be there, even months or years later.
They need to be met with the acknowledgement that their child died. They truly lost a child just as much as any other couple whose child died at any age. There is no denying that...though mourning may be decidedly different. Help them give a name to their child. Tell them "I'm sorry you lost your baby." Listen, pray with them, just as if the child had been older or if another family member had died....don't give glib statements like what has just been lost is merely the idea of a child. Suggest a memorial service. Confirm the baby's reality. Give them the comfort of the cross...the comfort that God is merciful and that they will see their child in Heaven.
Along with that, our Church seriously needs to address the pain of infertility. Sarah, Rachel and Hannah in the Old Testament; Zachariah and Elizabeth in the New -- their shame and anguish was clear. In his presentation "The Spitting Image of Love" Dr. Jastrum said that marriage is a reflection of the very Trinitarian nature of God....to not be able to beget is a deep and crushing agony for so many, and it often is not minimized even if the couple already has a child. They know the joy that a child brings, and hunger for more -- it is God-pleasing to do so. Adopting is a good thing, but I have never known a couple where it completely erased that pain. It exists on its own despite the love they have for their other children.
The answers that the world offers to infertility are often evil and dehumanizing, yet the anguished souls run to them without direction because they are not encouraged to seek comfort in God's peace.
We talked about the damage created when we deny the first blessing that God gave Adam and Eve as they were united in marriage "Be fruitful and multiply." What about the pain of those who have their desire and drive to fulfill this blessing thwarted? Both of these issues are part of what it means to be under the weight of sin. And those who are suffering from these anguishes, as well as every other tragedy that we confronted this week, need God's comfort.
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