12 July 2008

The Sound of Comfort in a Picture

It's been five months since our little Job was called from the womb to our Father in heaven. Hard to believe it's been that long, although a lot has happened in the meantime. We've observed the Lenten fast and celebrated Easter; I've been to Siberia and back; I've given my daughter in marriage; and I've served as the chaplain for the "Amen" conference in St. Louis. I've preached and received the preaching of the Gospel. I've confessed and heard confession; I've absolved and been absolved. I've catechized and received the catechesis of the Word. Faith and life continue. Christ remains the same, as in the past, so now and forever.

My wife and I, and our children, have been comforted by the grace of God in Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection, and by the gift of His Holy Spirit. We have been granted blessed peace and rest in the certainty of His Gospel, and we have rejoiced in His tender mercy and compassion.

I do believe all this, but, Lord, help Thou my unbelief! So many mixed emotions. So many hopes and fears and trepidations and desires. So many things to think about. How is it that my counsel and care and catechesis of others can be so simple and clear, and my confession of the faith so sure and certain, and yet, when it comes to living as I believe, it can sometimes be so difficult, so murky and muddy and confusing?

I'm not referring to despair, nor to shame and vice, but to the simple question that reared its head in the weeks and months following Job's death: Should we seek to avoid another pregnancy or remain open to receiving any other children the Lord in His mercy might entrust to us?

Immediately, I want to argue with myself that such a question is not valid. The Lord is the Author and Giver of life, not me. I am not able to choose whether He will give new life or withhold it. I should not seek to try. All of this is true, I know, but the question still arises. I can't argue it out of my head, nor ignore it out of my heart. For while the Lord has every prerogative to work as He will in spite of our contrivances and machinations, I know Him to be faithful in upholding His creation, to be orderly and consistent in preserving the means He has established for His work of procreation. He has entrusted us with a stewardship of His gifts, and He honors our exercise of that stewardship (with rare exceptions), whether we manage it poorly or well, rightly or wrongly. As He is faithful, so is it required of us to be faithful; which is to do what we are given to do, trusting Him to provide all that we need for this world and the next.

There are no guarantees to be found in our decisions and actions, nor within this fallen world. Heaven and earth will pass away, and only the Word of the Lord endures forever. Nevertheless, we do know how it is that God normally works the creation of new life, and we are clever enough to know how to avoid or reduce the likelihood of that happening. So we are faced with the responsibility, the temptation and the possibility, of making choices and decisions in such an area where angels and demons have no prerogative to tread. Hence, the question that confonted us following the miscarriage.

It has been most helpful to me, in contemplating such questions, to think of this in terms of love for the neighbor. In fact, I would venture to say, that is the right way to contemplate almost any of the choices or decisions we face in life. However, it is not the way our devious sinful will has wired us to think about things, nor the way in which the world teaches us to live. The perspective of our sinful hearts is to wonder what is to our own best advantage: What will make us happiest? What will cause us the least amount of difficulty? What is the ratio of our risk to our potential gain? When faced with a particular situation, a set of circumstances, a selection of possible paths and outcomes, each of us is far more likely to ask, "What's in it for me?" instead of, "How shall I be given to serve and help my neighbor in this scenario?" Or, again, "What must I do to be saved?" instead of, "What may I do to save my neighbor?"

So, for example, in answering this particular question of whether or not to avoid the likelihood of pregnancy, I am convinced that a husband must consider this from the standpoint of serving his wife. Not that he should simply defer to her judgment; for that would not be serving her, but abdicating his headship and avoiding his responsibility. Nor do I mean that he should chiefly be concerned about her feelings and desires, which are susceptible to the same sinful weaknesses as his own. Rather, it is a question of her life and health and strength and well-being. My opinion is that husbands and wives should normally not seek to avoid or reduce the likelihood of pregnancy; though I do not offer this opinion as a hard-and-fast law, but simply as a default rule of thumb. The norm, in other words, is that a husband and wife will gladly receive God's good gift and blessing of children, however few or many sons and daughters He may graciously choose to bestow upon them. So far, so good. But I am also suggesting that a departure from this norm may be pursued by a husband for the sake of his wife, in order to protect and care for her. In such a case, he is not acting apart from faith in God, but he is bearing the burden of love.

The specific application of these general observations will differ from one couple to the next. I am not seeking to make any blanket decisions for anyone. But these parameters were helpful to me in grappling with the question I found myself confronted with and unable to avoid. In my own heart I perceived how easily I could be swayed by doubts and fears and a lack of faith, and I fled from proceeding along such a path. Instead, I took up the much different perspective — not only a different consideration, but a different way of thinking: in the way of the Gospel instead of the Law, for the sake of my neighbor instead of my self — whether my wife would be endangered or harmed by another pregnancy, or so burdened in her own mortal frailty as to be undone or brought low in grief and sorrow. Those new questions were challenging in their own way, but they were the right sort of questions to be asking myself. They gave me a way of proceeding that did not call into doubt the grace, mercy and peace of God, but rather allowed me the privilege of living in grace, mercy and peace toward my nearest and dearest neighbor.

I should clarify that I did not process all of this in lonely isolation, but in conversation with my bride; both for the sake of hearing her own thoughts and concerns, and in order to articulate my various considerations. I rejoiced in that opportunity to share our hurts and struggles, to confess our faith to each other, and to arrive at an answer together in the hope and freedom of the Gospel. It was especially in the give and take of our discussion that I realized, my fears and trepidations were not so much for the health and well-being of my wife as for the possibility of another miscarriage. Of course there are always difficulties and dangers involved, but no more so now than six months or a year ago. Thus, the path of faith and love presented itself as an openness to any other sons or daughters with which the Lord in His mercy might entrust us.

Now, as the Lord has so willed, we are again privileged to care for a child in the womb. We pray that He who has begun this good work will also bring it to completion in due time. The little one is reckoned at eight weeks, the very point at which our Job departed from this vale of tears; and we anticipate that he or she will be born this coming February, very near the anniversary of Job's death. It has occurred to me that Job went on ahead of us to heaven, in order to make room for this new person of body and soul to be given life both now and forever.

I have also been aware of my weakness in response to this new life. For weeks my sinful heart hardly dared to believe the news, but held itself in check and hid, for fear that I would have to mourn another loss, another death. I resist that tempation by doing what I am given to do: praying for my unborn child, caring for my wife, and catechizing my family with the Word of Christ. Here am I, and the children God has given me. We are now and ever in His hands, who does not desire that any of these little ones should perish forever. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's; and we who live and believe in Him, though we die, yet shall we live.

In addition to His Word and promises, the Lord is also at work through His earthly means and wearing His human masks to serve and protect my dear wife and our little one inside of her. So, she is taking her vitamins, and she has been to the doctor, and within the past few days she had an ultrasound. What a joyous and tremendous help it was to see the picture she brought home with her, depicting our new baby in the womb, so clearly a human person, a child, a living being. He or she is barely as large as my thumbnail, but the head and torso are quickly and easily discerned, and even the features of a tiny face with eyes and nose and mouth. Arms and legs are already evident, beginning to extend from the body. Most wonderful of all, though not captured in the picture, was the rapid rhythm of the heart, beating in accordance with the Lord's design.

An ultrasound is a picture formed by sounds, which enter the womb from the outside and, as in this case, do not return void or empty. So, also, the voice of the Word, the Son of God, by whom all things are made and have their being. His Gospel enters the womb, even now, as easily as He once entered the womb of His Mother Mary and crafted for Himself a body from her flesh and blood to sacrifice for us upon the Cross. His incarnation and nativity, His life and death, His Cross and Resurrection, His Gospel of forgiveness and salvation, these are the sure and certain hope to which we cling as we care for our new baby in utero and wait upon the tender mercy of our God.

There is no other comfort like that of the Gospel, the sweet and sure forgiveness of sins. But that Gospel is often accompanied by tangible signs, and sometimes a picture really can be worth a thousand words. So it is that seeing a picture of my baby has been such an incredible, indescribable comfort. The last time LaRena had an ultrasound, immediately following Job's death, we both sat there in the little room at the hospital staring at the monitor, at the picture of an empty womb, a blank space where our baby once had been. There was no body, no face, no hearbeat; only emptiness. For now we live under the cross, and we look upon life as through a darkened glass; with all of creation we groan for the revealing of the sons of God in Christ, when we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him, knowing Him as we are known by Him in love. Yet, even now, in the midst of thick darkness and under the Cross of Christ, He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. For He has become flesh and tabernacles among us, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily and personally within His Church on earth.

In that picture of sounds from the womb of my dear wife, I am given to see the image of Christ, our Savior: a new life created for the life everlasting in Him. For He who is the Son of the Living God from all eternity, He has also been conceived in the womb of His Mother. It is precisely in that way that He has become true Man, like me and like my children in our frailty and weakness. There was also a particular day in time when He was at the stage of eight weeks in the womb, the One who would be born and grow up to bear our sins and death in His own body on the Cross. Thus has He become, not only our Brother of blood and flesh, but our faithful and merciful High Priest in things pertaining to God. In His face we see the Light of the revelation of the glory of God; and His face is a face like ours, like that of my tiny infant in the womb, so that in the Resurrection we shall see Him face-to-face, with our own eyes, from our own flesh. By His grace, that is the future and the hope set before me in the ultrasound picture of my youngest son or daughter, and I cannot help but give thanks. Soli Deo Gloria! Amen.


Pastor Ceadda Kendall said...

Very thoughtful post. My wife and I were blessed with two healthy boys and I am thankful for them. Last year my wife had to have her uterus removed due to health conditions. We can no longer have children and we have been a bit saddened by that, but we conclude that this is God's will for our lives.

I do think that it is important to remember the words of St. Paul in regards to women and pregnancy, "Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control"(1 Tim. 2:15).

It is a blessing for women to bear children as long as they are able because they are in league with God in a special way that men are not: in the realm of creating. God the Father is creator and even Jesus "is about the Father's business." Through childbearing the woman is "about the Father's business" as well.

My wife and I have never experienced a miscarriage, so I don't know how you feel. Having said that God the Father knows what loss feels like. He lost Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Then He lost His Son in order to redeem them.

The blessing of Jesus be upon you

+Fr. Chadius

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Father Chadius, for your kind and encouraging words. I appreciate your sharing both the sadness that you and your wife have experienced, as well as your beautiful confession of faith and hope under the Cross. Truly, our marriages and families are sanctified and blessed by the gift of our Father in heaven and the self-sacrifice of His only-begotten, well-beloved Son.

The Lord be with you, bless you and keep you in His grace, mercy and peace, unto life everlasting.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing all this. We empathize with you, as we have experienced two sequential miscarriages out of a total of nine pregnancies. They died at about nine and eleven weeks, respectively. These children were before our last two living children. The second made way for our second son to be conceived, Luke Theophil, and we just welcomed our fifth daughter, Grace Katherine.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, Brother Heidenreich, for your kind words, and for sharing your own circumstances. Congratulations on the recent birth of your daughter, Grace. Indeed, the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.