Grieving Infertility

An illuminated manuscript depicting Elkanah and his two wives, c.1430. Hannah, one of his wives, struggled with infertility (1 Samuel 1:1-20).

(Picture above) An illuminated manuscript depicting Elkanah and his two wives, c.1430. Hannah, one of his wives, struggled with infertility (1 Samuel 1:1-20).

Source: http://www.mnemosyne.org/mmw/fullsize/78d38_dl1_158v_init.jpg

March 16th, 2013.

It was a frigid, but fresh, Winter morning. Thanks to daylight saving, we were enjoying ample light on our drive down to Reading, MA. The traffic seemed to move in slow motion. The only noise I heard was the low hum of the engine punctuated by the occasional swish of passing cars. Hanna had been spotting, so she was visibly nervous. The images of her past miscarriages seemed to impose themselves on her troubled mind. “I don’t think I can handle another miscarriage… but God knows that doesn’t he?” I was silent. “I keep getting this ominous sense that it’s going to be a miscarriage again…”

I could not get myself to mouth the platitudes that I hadn’t enough faith for. So I asked her if I could pray for her. My prayers of faith were streaked with fits of worry, but I prayed nonetheless. Afterward, I suggested that we spend the rest of our ride listening to God.

About ten minutes into our listening silence, a passing car kicked up a pebble onto the windshield and startled me, prompting me to look up through my windshield into the sky to see a hawk soaring directly above me. Isaiah 40:30-31 immediately came to mind:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

After a few more minutes of listening and waiting, I asked Hanna if she had heard anything. “I don’t know if this is God speaking to me or not, but the line, ‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,’ keeps replaying in my head.”

Though we hadn’t heard the song in a while, I recognized that the line was from the song “Everlasting God”:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, you reign forever
Our hope, our strong deliverer

You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint you won’t grow weary
You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Amazed by this independent corroboration, I enthusiastically shared Isaiah 40:30-31 with her. The message was clear. “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.” “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” We weren’t sure what this message meant for our pregnancy, but we were to set our hope on God and he would give us the strength that is necessary–we gathered as much. We were grateful to hear from God in such a personal manner.

After drawing blood at the Fertility Center, we returned home and waited anxiously for the phone call. Hanna started to bleed more heavily and pass tissues. Discouraged and afflicted, yet Hanna held out hope. A few hours later, the phone finally rang and her reproductive endocrinologist confirmed the dreaded news.

We embraced each other and wept.

Then we sang, “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord.”

Later that day, I discovered through a youtube video that the author of the song, Brenton Brown, and his wife had suffered a tragic miscarriage themselves, and that “Everlasting God” was actually based on Isaiah 40:27-31 and written during a time of adversity in their lives. Verses 27-29, which I had not memorized, struck close to home:

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God?”
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Though we could not fathom God’s understanding, we were reassured that our way was not hidden from the Lord, that our cause was not disregarded by him. This truth strengthened our weary hearts that day.

And we continue to wait upon the Lord…

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Part 2 of 5: Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Model for Our Prayers

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Mt. 6:9-13).

As Andrew Murray rightly observes, “Jesus never taught His disciples how to preach, only how to pray. … To know how to speak to God is more than knowing how to speak to man. Not power with men, but power with God is the first thing” (Andrew Murray, Lord, Teach Us To Pray, Kindle Location 64-66). The disciples were privy to the secret of spiritual power in Jesus’s ministry. So they asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk. 11:1).

THE BASIS: “Our Father in heaven”
God is our Father. The basis of our prayer is a personal relationship with him, which we have due to our adoption through Jesus Christ: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15)

That’s why we pray in Jesus’s name: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn. 16:23-24).

God is our immanent Father, but he is also the transcendent Father in heaven. We can approach God in prayer because he is our Father; we can trust him to answer because he is our Father in heaven, all-knowing and all-powerful.

We can come to God in prayer as children come to their father, with simple openness and trust. Just as a child does not hesitate to ask his/her parent for even the most trivial and selfish things, we can pray to God for anything big or small, in accordance with the faith allotted to us. Even “selfish” prayer is a “testament” to our loving and trusting personal relationship with God.

Yet we come to God with a sense of reverence and worship. We are not entitled to anything. God is not a chummy “homeboy.” He is the Father we love and respect He demands our affection and awe. A prayer based on this wondrous relationship will undoubtedly be punctuated by outbursts of praise and thanksgiving.

THE PURPOSE: “Hallowed be your name”
“To hallow” means “to honor as holy.” Prayer seeks to see God’s name, which stands for his essence, honored. Therefore, prayer is not about manipulating God for our purposes. Its purpose is to glorify God.

Everything else that follows in the Lord’s Prayer feeds into this overarching goal. We pray for bread so that God’s name may be hallowed. We pray for forgiveness of sins so that God’s name may be hallowed. We pray for deliverance from evil so that God’s name may be hallowed.

THE THESIS: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are asking God to increase his reign, or rule, in people’s lives and in the world around us (Jn. 3:3-5; Col. 1:13; 1 Pt. 2:9). The Kingdom of God has already come and is yet to come (Jn. 4:23; 5:25; cf. Mk. 4:29; Rev. 3:11). This is why we pray that the Kingdom would be more and more of a reality in and around us.

Our goal in life is not to leave earth and get to heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth. We labor to bring about God’s heavenly purposes to bear on earth. Seeking to see God’s rule pervade every sphere of life is the thesis of the Lord’s prayer.

In James 4:2-3, it says that “[we] ask and do not receive, because [we] ask wrongly, to spend it on [our] passions.” When we pray rightly, we think God’s thoughts after him, love the things that are on his heart, and desire the things that he wills. Prayer, like a conversation, is two-way. Listening precedes asking so that we can pray “your will be done”.

Provision: “Give us this day our daily bread”
Now, we turn to supplication in our prayer. After we have sought God’s name, God’s Kingdom, and God’s will, we say “give us … forgive us … lead us … deliver us” (Murray, KL 260-263). The content of our supplication, which falls under the above thesis, is threefold: provision, pardon, and protection. All our personal needs are accounted for in these three petitions.

It is God who sustains us, so we must come to God for both physical and spiritual provision. A petition for “daily bread” assumes a “daily” companionship with God. We don’t just seek God in crises, we seek God everyday. We do not have a disembodied God, but an Incarnate Savior, who cares not only for our spiritual well-being, but also for our physical well-being.

The symbolic bread is also in view. God’s wilderness feeding of Israel, Jesus’s feeding of thousands (Mk. 6:32-44; 8:1-10), the sequence of meals in Jesus’s life culminates in the Last Supper, where Jesus is the bread of life (Jn. 6). God provides both physical and spiritual sustenance.

Pardon: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”
The reason why Matthew has “forgive us our debts” (Mt. 6:12) and Luke has “forgive us our sins” (Lk. 11:4), is that the original Aramaic word that Jesus would have used means both “debt” and “sin.”

The forgiveness of debt recalls the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, which called for the cancellation of all debt, return of all property to their original hereditary owners, and manumission of all indentured servants every 49th year (Lev. 25). People who have been freely forgiven should also forgive freely.

Forgiven people should also freely confess their sins, because “anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 118).

At the heart of sin is pride which says, “my will be done.” Therefore, if we have really prayed, “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” confession will flow naturally in our prayers.

Protection: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”
Prayer for pardon leads to prayer for protection from further temptations. As Paul reminds us, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Therefore, we wage war with spiritual, not physical, weapons and armor (Eph. 6:10-20). Non-Christians can fight crime, abolish slavery, and care for the poor, but only Christians can fight the spiritual forces of violence, racism and greed. Yet this, something that only we can do, is precisely what we often do not do.

Subconsciously, we lack confidence that prayer actually gets anything done. And since we have so many things actually to get done, prayer gets sidelined. However, there is no victory in Christian life without prayer. Everything that we do to advance the Kingdom of God on earth must be guided and sustained by prayer.

In his open letter How One Should Pray, for Master Peter the BarberMartin Luther wrote that he “suckle[s] at the Lord’s prayer like a child … [yet] never get[s] [his] fill. It is the very best prayer … It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it. What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! (p. 8)”

So try using the Lord’s Prayer as a model for your prayer!

This is Part 2 of 5 posts in my series on prayer. See Part 1 of 5: Does Prayer Change God? Or Does It Change Us? or Part 3 of 5: Keys to More Effective Prayer.