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Surprised by Sadness

Surprised by Sadness

My Honda Pilot turns 17 this year. We’ve been through a lot together during its 300,000 miles: the long years of graduate school, numerous treacherous winter storms, and miles upon miles of the daily grind. My husband and I bought the SUV when we started trying to get pregnant. In lieu of the cliché minivan, the Pilot was going to be the kid mobile. It was to be the hauler, and haul it did. For several years we drove a young mom and her three young boys to church. The back row air vent remains broken from the boys’ frequent kicks. Every Sunday morning for three years, come rain, shine, or snow, the Pilot towed a trailer full of drapes and poles as our church plant met in various schools. The hitch and tow are still attached. And the Pilot’s rooftop rack carted my husband’s bike to many triathlons. I use it to locate the Pilot in crowded parking lots.

As the Pilot nears the end of its productive years, I am overwhelmed with sadness. There’s so much that it never got to experience: bringing baby home from the hospital, dropping kids off at school, carpooling burgeoning soccer stars, cradling little broken hearts, acquiring dents from teenage drivers learning to parallel park, charioting an excited couple to prom, and countless other rites of passage. Did the Pilot get to live out its true design?

Like my car, I’ve experienced some natural deterioration over the last 17 years. As the signs of menopause creep up on me, I’ve felt acutely the loss of the ability to bear children. The sense of loss is not new, as I’ve grappled with infertility and have come to accept barrenness. But the overwhelming sadness is disconcerting, especially since I had already learned to be content without children. During our years of infertility treatments, we heard clearly from God that we would not have children. He spoke to me in a dream declaring, “In my infinite wisdom I have chosen to withhold children from you.” And my husband and I responded by saying, “Your will be done.” So, why the sadness once again?

Grieving is a process that never truly ends this side of heaven. There are constant reminders of that which is no longer ours, or in the case of infertility, that which never was ours. In those reality check moments, the waves of grief can gently wash over us or sometimes overwhelm us with their speed and strength. While I can celebrate with family and friends when they announce their pregnancies, post first-day-of-kindergarten pictures, cheer for sports and academic accomplishments, host graduation parties, and preside over the weddings of their children, my happiness is always tinged with a little sadness in missing out on those milestones in my own life. Because I am truly happy for family and friends, the sadness often takes me by surprise, and then I take a deep breath and do the work of grieving for that which I had not known I would miss.

I have accepted that God’s wisdom to withhold kids from me and my husband is infinitely greater than mine. I have even come to rejoice in the life God has carved out for us, appreciating a lifestyle of focusing on ministry and each other. But the eminent demise of Pilot and the onset of menopause mark the closing of the kids-are-possible era for me, and the sadness has exposed the fact that I had buried the desire to have children deep inside my heart where it continued to live and breathe, softly whispering that there is still hope for the miracle of a child. Now, as my body loses its ability to bear children, the hope can no longer survive. And it is the end of hope that is the most devastating loss of all.

During his time of suffering and loss, Job understood the pain of losing hope. He tried to explain it to his friends, saying, “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?” (Job 6:11-13). Job contended that God had uprooted his hope like a tree (Job 19:10) and he had no other options open to him.

As the childbearing years draw to a close, I wonder if my husband and I have been able to live out our design. God blessed Adam and Eve and told them to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28). We have no fruit of our womb, no biological legacy to fill the earth and subdue it; So, I sigh and sit for a while with the sadness. But an African friend’s recent Facebook post brought me tears of joy during my grieving. She shared a photo of me holding her two-year-old son and captioned it “mother of nations.” In that moment God whispered his words of affirmation to me who has felt like a dry tree: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:4-5). I have been surprised by sadness, but the God of hope has filled me with all joy and peace as I trust in Him, so that I can still overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

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