Brian Richards :: CrossEyed Ministries

Equiping Disciples to Make Disciples who Make Disciples

Hope Heals: Mourning, Miscarriage, and the Mystery of God (Part 2)

Today, our twins would have been three.
It’s been three years and seven months since we lost them.
Even with a rambunctious 15-month old at the house now, there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about them. I still wonder why God didn’t see fit to intercede and let their little hearts continue to beat and their little bodies to grow to full term.

Whoever said time heals all wounds lied. Time isn’t that powerful.
But Jesus – in time – can.

Unfortunately, it’s the “in time” process that seems to drag on longer than most of my sermons. For too long, every encouraging word from well-intentioned friends seemed to offer as much hope as your grandmother’s inspirational Facebook meme of the cat dangling from the tree saying, ‘Hang in there.’ Yeah, thanks but no thanks.

Over the last three years, though, the Lord has continued to apply the conversation of Jesus and John the Baptist in Matthew 11 as a soothing balm to the wounds of my nagging disappointment and doubt.

Are You the One?
As John the Baptist sits in a prison cell for speaking the truth, he sends a group of his followers to ask Jesus a simple question: “Are you the One or should we wait for someone else?” Now John’s question is not unusual in content. Everyone was curious if Jesus was the promised Messiah. After 400 years of prophetic silence, John’s ministry brought about an even greater anxiety for the coming Messiah.

People were asking. Lots of people. But the question IS unique in his personal context. Think about it.

This is the same John whose miraculous birth set him apart for a historical mission to pave the way for the Messiah (Lk 1:5-25). This is the same John who pointed to Jesus and professed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (Jn 1:29-31). This is the same John who humbly resisted, then acquiesced to the request of Jesus for baptism (Mat 3:13-15).

This is the same John who leapt for joy IN THE WOMB at the sound of Mary’s voice with Jesus tagging along in-utero (Lk 1:39-45). Did you catch that? Jesus and John had a pre-natal party long before this prison question session.

John knew exactly who he was and what he was born to do.
John knew exactly who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

So what would cause this man – one who knew these things so clearly – to doubt the identity of Jesus?For John, just like us, his questions and doubts came from a life full of unfair experiences and unfulfilled expectations.

Unfair Experiences
Consider why John was in prison. Matthew 14 tells us the details of the situation. Herod had been messing around with his sister-in-law and John consistently spoke against his sinful behavior. John was doing exactly what the Lord had called him to do – preaching repentance, pointing out ungodly behavior and pointing people to Jesus. And what did obedience get him? Persecution, not praise. Where did obedience land him? Prison, not a palace.

I spent months asking similar questions. After years of trying to conceive, why would God allow us the excitement and hope of having a baby for those two months only to be ripped away from us? Why when thousands of children are left unwanted, or worse, robbed of their life through abortion would God not grant us our great desire to have a child? Sure, our situation didn’t land us in a physical prison. But when you finally see a positive pregnancy test after years of negatives, the devastation of miscarriage can feel as claustrophobic as a 6 x 6 cell.

Unfulfilled Expectations
But John also knew what the Scripture said about the Messiah. John knew that the same Messiah who would ‘open the eyes of the blind’ would also ‘come with vengeance’ and ‘save you’ (Isa 35:4-6). He knew that the same Messiah who would bring ‘good news to the afflicted’ would also bring ‘freedom to prisoners’ (Isa 61:1). Of all the people who should be covered in the protective Messiah bubble-wrap it should be someone like John the Baptist, right? He’s the forerunner. He’s the voice crying out in the wilderness. Surely if Jesus is really the Messiah, then He will come and overthrow these oppressive forces and rescue John.

Even more, if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, what does this say about John’s life and ministry? Had he wasted his adult life preaching repentance and pointing people to Jesus? Did he flat out get it wrong? Had he failed? Surely Jesus understands how important John is to the overarching redemption narrative. Surely Jesus sees clearly how John doesn’t deserve to be locked up for standing up for righteousness and would rescue him from his dire situation.

When Jesus doesn’t do what we think He should do in our lives or when He doesn’t show up when we think He should, we may ask the same thing John did: “Are you really the One?” or more pointedly “Did I waste my life on this?”

Maybe if I would have prayed more then my babies would still be alive.
Maybe God is punishing me for some sin in my life I haven’t confessed.
What does this say about my faith?
What does this say about my ministry if God chooses to answer my prayers with a NO?

We have all been there.

But here’s the beauty and brilliance of Jesus. Jesus rarely settles for the yes-no answers. Why? If Jesus says “Yes, I am the Messiah,” then John may be left wondering if Jesus will rescue him from prison. If Jesus says “No, I am not the Messiah,” then John will be left hopeless and reflecting on a failed ministry.

But listen to what Jesus said:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” (vs 4-5).

Jesus quotes from three Messianic passages in Isaiah.
He points John directly His works as fulfillment of the Word.

John, you haven’t failed. You didn’t miss it. You’ve done well, good and faithful servant.

What great hope this offers to all of us. We can follow John’s example and bring our doubts straight to Jesus. When we do, we are met with the assurance of the written Word that points us to the Incarnate Word and what He has secured for us through his life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Great. Case closed. No more worries. No more doubts. Problem solved, right?

But then Jesus drops one more line on John that has always bothered me. It’s only been over the last three years of reflection that I believe I’m finally embracing what I believe Jesus was saying.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (vs 6).

Wait what? What do you mean Jesus? Blessed? Offended? You just confirmed that looking at what the Word says compared to your actions reveals that you are the Messiah! How could that cause John ‘offense’? What could you possibly do that could cause John to ‘fall away’ or (literally) be scandalized?

The answer to these questions are harder to swallow.

I believe what Jesus is saying to John, his final words to His faithful forerunner, was simply this:
Yes, I am the Messiah. Yes, you’ve accomplished your mission.
But I’m not coming to get you. Will you still believe?

And friends, this is where the sovereignty of the Almighty rubs against our sensibilities. We want the perfect ending for John. The faithful servant is saved from destruction. We want to see Jesus bust into the prison, turn over some tables, and set John free. We want to see the Father send an earthquake at just the right time that shakes the gates of the prison open and Jesus and John sneak out the back.

Why? Because it echoes the deepest cries of our heart as we wrestle with our present pain. We want Jesus to sweep in and save us from our dreadful circumstances. We want Jesus to kick butt and take names of those who have hurt us. We want Jesus to do whatever necessary to change our current circumstance because it’s just not fair.

We want our lost babies back.
We want our lost jobs back.
We want our loved ones back
We want the sicknesses to end.
We want the pain to end.
We just want Him to FIX it. And to fix it NOW.

But friends, what if, as you cry out to Him, Jesus softly whispers to you as He did to me:I’m not changing this situation.

Will you take offense? Will you fall away?

My prayer is that all of us who are walking through difficult times will allow our doubts to drive us into a deeper dependence on Him rather than deeper despair. The only way this is possible is to trust in His faithful Word and His finished work. We know that the same Jesus who may not show up right now, will show up one day. And when He does, He will make all things new. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more questions. No more doubts. No more worries.

Through this season of sorrow, the grace of the Lord continues to meet me at every turn by consistently reminding me that I can do more than simply ‘Hang in there.’

I can hope.
And hope in Jesus, in time, most certainly heals.

Mourning, Miscarriage, and the Mystery of God (Part 1)

Three years ago today (January 6th) I heard the four words that my heart had been longing to hear for years…

I think I’m pregnant.

As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I smiled at my wife, as shocked by the news as her choosing to tell me at 6:15 in the morning. Every possible emotion flooded over me.

Joy. Excitement. Anxiety. Fear. Hope. Relief.

Finally. Finally, the Lord had answered our desperate prayers and had gifted us with a baby.

Over two dozen months of disappointment had brought both of us to a breaking point. Seventy-hour work weeks (for her) and endless PhD seminar papers (for me) compounded the monthly stress. Anyone who has struggled with infertility, especially ‘unexplained’ infertility, knows that the mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion drains everything out of you.

We struggled with bitterness creeping into our hearts every time we watched another friend announce their pregnancy. We’d cringe and give an awkward smile every time someone asked us, “So when are Y’ALL going to have a baby?” We wrestled with the harsh reality that ‘our time’ may never come.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” I would coach myself each month. “Don’t get upset if it’s negative,” I’d say while impatiently waiting for results. But how could I NOT be hopeful? How could I not be upset? That’s like asking me to drive by Sonic without stopping for a Coke during Happy Hour. Impossible. Yet, each time that pregnancy test showed one line instead of two, or worse, digitally spelled out ‘not pregnant,’ I just wanted to run away. Where? I have no idea. Just away.

But this time it was different. Four positive tests later confirmed that we were in fact pregnant. Finally.

We kept it to ourselves for what seemed like forever. We told a few trusted friends and decided to get through the first trimester before we would announce to our families. Each night we laid in bed – thankful – still somewhat in disbelief at this new reality. We would laugh almost simultaneously and say “I can’t believe this is happening.” Each night I would put my hand on her stomach and pray over our child – that he or she would develop into a young person who loved and honored Christ and that the Lord would prepare us to lead them to love and serve Him. Each night brought new questions and excitement as we considered what it would be like to bring a child into this world.

Just a few weeks later, though, I heard four more words that no parent ever wants to hear…

There is no heartbeat.

No sleep to rub from my eyes. I was fully awake. A punch to the gut is the only phrase that can accurately describe the stomach-churning ache all over my body. I wanted to scream, but I was too numb to even muster enough strength for that.

Tears welled. No words. Just weeping. Her hand in mine. Weeping.

I hurt even more for my wife, though.

Here’s a woman who spends her days joyously bringing new life into the world, celebrating alongside her patients as they welcome a new addition to their family. A woman who would do ANYTHING medically possible to make sure her patients’ babies arrived here as healthy and safely as possible. But there’s nothing either one of us can do. Helpless. In the same examination room where many of her patients would rejoice at the first blips on the ultrasound machine, we see and hear no sign of life.

In the chill of that moment, the Lord spoke to my broken heart. Not an audible voice, to be certain, but a penetrating question my spirit heard clearly.

Will you still worship me?

The question hung in the air like a thick morning fog.

What do you mean will I still worship You? How can You even ask that? No! Our babies are gone. Both of them. Just like that. Gone!

Of course, I know that’s NOT the right answer – theologically, personally, professionally, for a myriad of reasons. But it’s the honest answer. The pain was too fresh, too deep.

The question hurt. But it was the question I needed. It’s the question we all need.

After three years, I know even more now what the Lord was asking of me then. He wasn’t looking for pleasantries from a pulpit or closed eyes and raised hands from a pew. He wasn’t interested in a seminary paper on the doctrine of sin and the problem of evil. He wasn’t impressed with my most recent slate of speaking engagements. He wasn’t even waiting for me to quote Scripture back to Him.

He wanted to know if, in the quietness of my pain, was He enough?

Would I still see Him as glorious when His goodness seemed so far away?

Would I still trust His faithfulness in the midst of my fearfulness?

Would I still say ‘yes’ to His directions even if He says ‘no’ to me being a daddy?

Would He still be my most supreme affection even if I never got to hold my babies?

I’m convinced that the most dangerous temptation, at least in my own life, is the ease at which I offer my heart’s affection and my mind’s attention to the gifts of God rather than the gift-Giver Himself. More bluntly, I’m embarrassed by how often my obedience to the Lord is heavily influenced by whether or not I think He’s given me what I want.

But by His grace, I’m thankful that His faithfulness is not dependent on my faithfulness to Him. When my doubts cloud my ability to worship, His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect through weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). When my disappointment leaves me speechless in prayer, the Spirit intercedes on my behalf (Rom. 8:26). And when I wonder if He understands my pain of loss, especially of a child, I simply turn to the cross.

Not a day goes by I don’t miss my babies. The pain never goes away – you simply learn to live with a new normal. But because He is near to the broken-hearted, I know that He is enough.

He always has been. He always will be.