One day, out of the blue, unexpected, unanticipated, unbelievable, I was pregnant. And again, 15 months later. Emma is now 16, Abby 14. They are miracles.
I was 31 years old when I got married. Behind the power curve (in my insular opinion) where such a significant life-marker was concerned. Children were up next (and fast) on my make-up-for-lost-time agenda. There would be no leisurely year of nuptial bliss before we began the process of trying to get pregnant. The clock was ticking. There was no time to waste – or for which to wait. I was in hot pursuit.
After a year of trying with no success, the fertility consultations and moderate treatments began. By year two, we’d moved to more intensive, invasive testing. And with still no success or answers that satisfied, in-vitro was the next-recommended attempt. Once. Twice. Nothing.
And then I couldn’t bear any more. I was tired of waiting. I was tired of trying. I was tired of hoping. So I stopped. No more treatment. No more planning. Little-to-no conversation. Time for life to move on.
It did, of course. And it didn’t.
In the nearly-three years that followed, no matter how I tried to ignore my longings, those emotions would not be aborted. No matter how I tried to put on a
spiritual happy face and quote Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love God…), I raged inside. No matter how I tried to tell myself that God had other plans for me, that my life would have other “births,” that my world would be rich in unimaginable ways, I was miserable.
But not for lack of trying to summon up any other emotion, any other perspective, any other experience. I tried to pray. I tried to be patient. I tried to let go. I tried to trust. I tried to have faith, thinking that would make sense of things, but every effort was impotent and infertile.
Oh, how I wish I could say that my (im)patient waiting, hoping, and tenacious trust resulted in a profoundly dynamic spiritual life; a seismic and never-to-be-questioned-again faith. Even more, how I wish that I could say to others who struggle with such intolerable heartache that “just having faith” will, indeed and ultimately, engender and enable a hope in God that comforts and sustains.
I cannot. I will not.
I grew up believing that faith was something I needed to (and could, with enough work) attain. It was a developed skill, a worthy goal, a near-requirement for the believer in God. I also grew up believing in some kind of Divine barter system: if only I could have what I wanted, what I desired, what I fervently prayed for, then I would have faith. I ask. God comes through. My faith exponentially grows.
I am still growing, but here is what I believe now: Faith is not ours to work toward, aspire to, or command at will. It will not appear at our beck-and-call.
Faith grows in chasms of doubt. It is nurtured in the darkness of pain. It slowly, silently, almost imperceptibly multiplies in long, wide, and deep spaces of waiting, of questioning, of aching, of asking.
Faith is not a sense-making activity, quality, or attribute. It is a crazy, defiant, and nearly certifiable choice – made an infinite number of times within one day, one life, one heart. It does not come in miracles and breakthroughs, but in the pregnant spaces of life that are more-often filled with desolation than hope. Still, an occasional tinge of awareness that something is growing and will be birthed, but a complete and helpless inability to will it to arrive any sooner. It is a mysterious, un-navigable, impossible-to-(pre)determine journey.
Faith is much like pregnancy: experience more than event. And faith is much like infertility: despairing, but waiting-hoping-trusting anyway.
Faith is living one day after the next. One foot in front of the other. One wish-and-a-prayer that is too-often dashed, but whispered yet again. One broken heart that somehow mends and loves again. One longing for success that decries a dwindling bank account. One more blog post when creativity wanes. One more load of laundry. One more commute. One more prayer. One more push.
Faith is not the ending of the story, nor is it the beginning. It is the way in which we be; the way in which we live in the middle.
Naturally, the gift of my two daughters – then and now – nearly takes my breath away. Naturally, I am deeply grateful to God for their presence in my life. But I have learned that faith that spikes in such places rarely sticks. The faith that stays – and sustains – is that which is nurtured in the well-worn path of worry, the sleepless nights, the inconsolable heartache, the insatiable desires. In between the lines. In the middle.
I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. ― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith