My daughter is one of the great joys of my life, but after losing a child to Miscarriage and Infant Loss, this is the tension I live in now.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
I have been thinking a lot lately about my March 2018 article: My Baby Had Feet as I have tried to finalize thoughts for the book by the same title and search for a publisher for it. One of the final chapters goes by the same title as this piece. Readers and followers of this website know that in August of 2019 we announced a new pregnancy and in February of 2019, 13 months, and 2 days after we lost the first baby, our daughter Erin was born. These are exciting times to be sure, and we celebrated them thoroughly, just as we celebrated her first Birthday in February. I have loved almost every minute of being a father, almost because there are things that you struggle with, especially when its your first full term child. There were some ups and downs as we navigated finding an eye doctor and surgeon to remove the congenital cataracts she was born with. There were sleepless nights and near sleepless nights, we both almost gave up hope as we struggled to finish seminary and help a newborn adjust to life outside the womb. It has been exciting to hear her find her singing voice (already, at 18 months) and start to speak and even say “amen” when we finish praying together, or when she comes running to me when I get home from the church yelling “Daddy!”. As her little personality develops, we are challenged in new and exciting ways as we seek to shepherd her, even now. To a faith that we not only pass down, but she also owns as her own as early as possible.
Still, there is a tension here, a tension that I hope to zero in on in the last chapter of “My Baby Had Feet.” This tension is this: If we had not lost the first child, the child we have now would not exist. The child we miss, and never got to meet, the child who we loved and had started to bond with and whose still, tiny frame only saw this earth for a moment, had that child lived, our daughter would not. That is a strange and yet necessary thought as you see their ultrasounds sitting side by side on the bookshelf in the living room (pictured above). Instead of grieving one and rejoicing in the other, we would have rejoiced in the one and been ignorant that another even existed or was in store for us (although by now we may have been expecting another).
Some may say I am being overly dramatic, but this is part of my healing journey, so please walk with me. As a theologian, I am okay with such tensions, after all, we live in the liminal space of the now-but-not-yet tension of our salvation, saved, being saved, already saved, going to be saved. I am used to tensions and okay with them…as a theologian. As a human being, I am not okay with tension, I hate it, it is uncomfortable. There have been times when I want to take that ultrasound picture and throw it across the room and shout at God for taking that Child from us, even though I know it was the fallen world and not God who took that child from us, but my human instinct is to blame him. Even though I know it was He who could have let the child live and also He who brought around us friends and family who supported us, prayed for us and loved us. Even though I know it was Him who provided the tickets to the Rend Collective Concert where we started to heal, as a couple and as individuals. He did not cause my child to die in the womb, He could have prevented it, but He also had something else for us, a little girl who belts our Rend Collective, even though she does not yet have the language to do so. Maybe this is something we need to develop, along with a better theology of suffering, a theology of tensions. As I said, theologians have one, we are willing to hold in tension what seems totally contradictory, such as Man is created in the image of God, and Man is fallen, broken and utterly depraved. Like Suffering, we need to learn to sit in the liminal space between two events or two ideas or points of tension.
Like tension, we do not like suffering either, American Evangelicals and American Protestants in general are “Suffering averse” and to avoid tension we will hold a completely heretical or anti-biblical position and demand others hold it too. We will downplay suffering, even ignore it, so that we can remain in our happy-go-lucky bubble. We scream or grumble at pastors who make us feel uncomfortable, we refuse to listen to any leader or government official who disagrees with our established viewpoint. We generally hate being challenged on anything, and yet, if we really dig down and dig deep in scripture, we will find a challenge to everything this world has taught us to hold dear. We will also find a lot of teaching about suffering….A LOT of teaching about suffering.
Take the book of Philippians, we love to polish this book up, to make it some great letter of affection from the Apostle to the Church which has supported him, and it is. That is not the entire story though, Paul is saying all that he says in Philippians chained to a Roman Praetorian Guard, waiting day-in and day-out to hear whether or not he is going to live to see the year 62. Nero has risen to power, and while he is not yet persecuting Christians to the extent he would in a few years, he is uttering murderous threats, and this may have concerned the Philippians. On top of that, there has been a divide among them, certain people in the church have allowed Pride to well up and cause divisions in the Church. Add to that the fact that other teachers were in the area, trying to damage Paul’s ministry, even thought they were preaching the True Gospel. Finally Paul is concerned about the Circumcision Group gaining a foothold in Philippi, likely because they had done so much damage in nearby Galatia. It is under House Arrest, chained to a guard, with detractors attacking him and a myriad of concerns for the spiritual welfare of the Philippian Church, which He loves, that Paul writes the oft misquoted and misapplied: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation, I am to be content” (4:11). And “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13)
But it is hard for me, as a Pastor, to apply contentment in tension like this to any and ever situation. It is even harder for me to apply them to the loss of a child. To live in the tension, as Paul did, between prison and freedom in Christ. That is uncomfortable, it is also uncomfortable to live in the tension between wanting to meet and hold a child you cannot while playing tag with, singing with and dancing with a child you can. But that is where I live, between saying: I am content with this child, but I miss the one we lost. I am happy this one exists, but I wish I had these experiences with the other as well. It is the tension ever Christian lives in, “Thy will be done father” alongside “please intercede on the behalf of so and so.” I do not want to be content, I do not want to live in Liminal space, the sinful world took something from me, and I want to make them pay, I want to be angry, I do not wish to be content and focus on Christ in my pain. But this is what Scripture challenges me to do, to suffer well, because it is in suffering that God will be glorified (John 9:1-15, Phil 1:14) whether that suffering be because of the fallenness of nature (miscarriage and infant loss) or from the sinfulness of human kind such as persecution. I do not want to “Rejoice in the Lord” that is, Rejoice in all that God has done for me and for the Church in general, but at the same time, I know this is what is best for me. Christ, after all, was able to live in the tension between suffering and life, and he chose to give his up for my sins, to glorify God the father, whom He was equal with, by humbling himself and taking up the towel and then the cross. I can glorify Him through these momentary afflictions and losses without grumbling and complaining as I look forward to the day of Christ Jesus. In doing this I know I will show my salvation, and the destruction of my detractors, as well as shine as a light to the world which is depraved and fallen (Phil 1:27-2:30, 2 Cor 4:17).
I may not be saying anything here, just working out thoughts and hoping to have some good. Maybe a dad is reading this who lost a child and then had another one in the next year and they are saying: “yes, I know this tension, thank you I am not alone.” Or maybe the theologians who read this post will spend the day dissecting me and correcting me because my theology of suffering and tension needs some work or to be better fleshed out. The latter of that is true, since this post is short, and Bonhoeffer wrote books on the Theology of Suffering. But I hope I can speak clearly to one father who has gone through this experience, who is living in this tension, and help you sort out your thoughts a little bit. Because, while we focus so much on the mother after a miscarriage or infant loss, you too lost a child, someone who carried something of you and was in your image, as well as Gods. Yet, you are often left to suffer alone, and usually long after your wife has started to heal, since you have walk with her in her pain, often delaying your own grief in the moment. I know, because I have been there, just as I am here now.
Or maybe you’re a father who has never had this experience, how can reading this, gaining knowledge of this tension help you reach out to those who have. The father whose wife has struggled with infertility, or now inhabits the tension I am talking about here. How can you reach out and better walk with them through this? Or maybe you are a father who has lost many children to infant loss and miscarriage and infertility. Yes, you are a father, even if those children are not living with you on this planet, they are yours and you were part in creating them, just as I helped created Shalom. I know that it seems now that your hopes and dreams of beginning a family are smashed against the rocks, and that you live in the tension of wanting to hope in the Lord, and curse his name from grief. But hold on, you are not alone and you are not forgotten, by God or by me. Stand firm in the tension, and know that whatever happens, Christ has not abandoned you or not heard your cries. He is there with you, weeping with you and holding you up so that you can endure all things though Christ who strengthens and redeems you.
I praise God everyday for every second I get to spend with my little girl, I do not take her for granted and cannot imagine life without her, and I thank God for everything He has given me through her. But that does not mean I do not miss the child we lost, do not love the child we lost, or at times think about what that child would be like. Praise God for his mercy and the fact that I can, in fact, live in the tension.
If this is you, or this is your story and you are looking for someone to talk to or council you on this subject. I would love to listen to your story and even walk with you where I can. You can contact me through this site, and I pray you will.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.