In July 2007 my wife and I experienced heartache no first time parent ever wants to feel. In February that year, we learned Jackie was pregnant. The pregnancy was difficult. We could see that the child was measuring larger than he should have. Nonetheless, we were very excited about adding the first member to our new family. But at 27 weeks, Jackie was admitted to a local hospital with complications. A few days later she went into premature labor which could not be stopped. Our doctor delivered the news to us around 3:00am Friday, July 20: “We’ve got to go. You’re having this baby.”
Jonathan Silas Hauer was born later that morning. At 28 weeks he was 3 months premature. The events took us by complete surprise and Jonathan’s condition was extremely compromised.
We hurt. We already had so much love for this child. What kind of life would he have? Would he even make it?
We were confused. How did this happen? Was it something we caused?
And all of a sudden, we felt very alone. As much as friends and family want to comfort and help, when something of this magnitude happens to parents, they alone fully know what it’s like.
This past weekend, Jackie got an email from a young lady she used to disciple. Recently she also had given birth to a child with complications, and was struggling, looking for some words of comfort and hope. Here is what helped us.
1. It’s ok to hurt…but find true comfort.
Whenever we lose something or experience deep disappointment it’s normal to feel the pain of loss. If you’re numb when a human life is at stake, your own humanity should be called into question. Where’s your heart?
Feeling pain for a sick child, especially your own child, is to feel human. But at the same time we must understand, we will eventually seek some type of pain management, some type of comfort, to cope with the pain. We do this through various means. We can lash out at others hoping they will feel pain too. We can sleep to avoid the reality before us. We can run to find comfort and escape in TV and movies, in Facebook or Twitter, in acts of pleasure, in alcohol and drugs, and in all other sorts of things that will relieve the pain.
We will feel pain when we lose. But your God who made both you and your child, desires to be the ultimate source of comfort in your pain.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
It’s ok to hurt, but we complicate our situation when we seek resolve in the creation rather than the creator. When you hurt, locate the source of true comfort, in God himself.
2. It’s ok to be confused…but there is the hope of promise.
When Jonathan was born, our world was shaken to the core. In a moment’s notice our future was up in the air. There was no telling what the next months and years to come would look like. Was he going to die? Was he going to be wheelchair bound or bedridden? We did the only thing we knew to do, when we don’t know what to do: turn to God through his word and prayer.
Those first days a section of the book of Isaiah stood out in an unusual way to us. The passage says,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Isa 55:10-13
And here’s how it was affecting us at that time (from an email update I sent to friends and family then):
We are continually comforted by the promise of hope that comes through faith in God’s sovereignty. We have quickly realized how little control we have over circumstances—we’ve been caught in a whirlwind as it were. But in the whirlwind, we’ve heard the voice of God through his word. Over the past few days, four verses from book of Isaiah have lingered over our lives.
“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.” Jackie and I have full confidence that the end of this matter will be better than its beginning. We hear in these verses hope and a promise from God that Jonathan will soon be a healthy young boy.
But God has his purposes in the trial we are enduring—“it shall make a name for the Lord.” We may never be able to trace out all the ways God uses this for his glory, but even here in the hospital we can see how he’s at work. Jackie and I have connected with several other parents who are going through the same things. We are planning on all getting together once a week over the next few weeks to share in our experiences. Jackie and I are praying that God’s story would intersect with each of ours during this time. Please pray with us that God would impact the lives of hospital staff and others sharing this experience while we are here. We will be spending much time here at the hospital.
We didn’t know what was happening to us and our newly born child. But there was a hope that was given to us that remained through every bad report, every “he won’t ever…”, all 98 days we spent in the neo-natal ICU with him, and even through the past six years. What happened had not caught God off guard and he was there in the midst of the situation. The Lord sees beyond the moment, holds what is to come in his hands, delights to give his children great confidence in him. I’m not saying circumstances always change, or that someone is healed every time, but what I’m saying is that there is, what we’ve experienced in our own way, hope in Christ.
3. It’s ok to feel alone…but you’re not alone.
I think almost everyone is uncomfortable with suffering. We don’t like to experience it personally. It’s awkward to be around others who are suffering. Most of the time we don’t handle it well. Sometimes we want to minimize what others are going through. We say things like, “It’s not that bad” or “Everything is going to be ok.” How can we say such things? Sometimes it is that bad. Most of the time, we have no idea how things will turn out!
Sometime it’s just too much to handle. Jackie remembers someone saying to her, “I can’t visit because I can’t bear seeing him in that plastic box (incubator).” Other times we want to push others to quickly accept the realities of it all and “get over” things.
Bottom line: suffering makes us uncomfortable. And this usually amounts to sufferers feeling no one gets it, that no one is truly with us.
But we never truly suffer alone. We have a God who suffered alone, who is truly with us. Not too long ago, I came across this helpful quote from 17th C. pastor Jeremiah Burroughs:
Hebrews 13:5 shows this plainly, that it is our inheritance, and we do not inherit less now than they did in Joshua’s time, but we inherit more.
For you will find in that place of Hebrews that more is said than is to Joshua. To Joshua God says, He will not leave him nor forsake him; but in this place in Hebrews in the Greek there are five negatives, I will not, not, not, not, not again. That is the force of it in the Greek. I say, there are five negatives in that little sentence; as if God should say, I will not leave you, no I will not, I will not, I will not, with such earnestness five times together. -Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
We can feel like no one really gets what we’re going through. And on a person to person level, that may even be true. But Christ promises he will never, ever, never, ever, ever leave you.
On a couple of side notes, if you do have a spouse or someone else who is very close to the situation, consider the blessing it is to have someone journeying with you: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) Jackie and I both had good days and bad days during this time (and still do surprisingly!). We all need someone there for us. Count your blessings when you do.
Secondly, we would all do well to grow comfortable with other’s suffering, and do more of the command of Romans 12:15, and simply “mourn with those who mourn.” Sufferers don’t always need answers, sometimes just shared tears are enough.
Jonathan will turn six this July. We spent three months in the neonatal ICU with him before taking him home. And though he still has some obstacles before him, we’ve seen God’s promise come to fruition in many ways. We had no idea what the doctor saying “We’ve got to go…” would mean for us. We simply put our trust in Christ to lead us through in every way. He still is.