How does a mother learn to breathe again after her baby dies? One breath in. One breath out. And then again. And again.
I delivered two healthy sons before experiencing my first miscarriage—the deepest form of personal crisis I’ve yet endured, leaving me reeling and disoriented.
And then I experienced another. And another. And another.
The Dignity of Recognition & Naming Our Suffering
Suffering doesn’t choose the weak or the strong, the faithful or the faithless; it chooses the human. When you’re caught by waves larger than your capacity to stay above the surface, you’ve got to allow your heart to feel the pain all the way down to the bottom, so that when you get there you can see you’re still alive. There’s still hope. It’s from the bottom we can begin to heal our way back up to the surface. The human heart is fragile, yes, but it’s also more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.
The deep is not our enemy or a thing to be resisted. But it does command our attention. No matter what form it takes, suffering always commands our attention. It won’t be alleviated by comparison to greater or lesser suffering (or your perception of it). Your pain is your pain and it deserves the dignity of recognition, for that is where healing begins.
Naming our suffering doesn’t mean becoming defined by it; it means honestly acknowledging our need in the presence of Jesus. Our humility frees us to receive God’s grace. It’s God’s beauty for our ashes—the great exchange, God’s answer to our pain.
Our present suffering is the best reminder that life gives us more than we can handle, which is exactly why we need Jesus.
Navigating Waves of Grief with the Deep Dive
After my first miscarriage when waves of grief came pounding with incredible force, I discovered something: If I didn’t dive deep, the waves would pummel me. In surfing, this is called a “duck dive.” The apostle Paul calls it being “hidden with Christ.” I call it survival.
As I began to practice my own deep dive amongst the waves of grief, I discovered it was more than survival. It was an invitation: Would I find Jesus in the deep? My suffering became the invitation to experience God’s grace—God’s upside-down kingdom at work.
My husband and I named our baby Scarlett Grace. Scarlett for the pain, the suffering, the life poured out mingled with the hope of resurrection. Grace for possibility and purpose, goodness and life—the breathtaking assurance that God can be found in our suffering. We named her not just for what was, but what we sensed could be.
God’s promise to us is not that bad things won’t happen, it’s that he’s with us through it all—Emmanuel, God with us. We were beginning to see it.
The ache we endured after losing Scarlett helped uncover holes in our theology—chiefly, that we didn’t have a theology of suffering. A theology of suffering doesn’t mean God wills it or leads us into it. It means that when suffering comes into our still-broken world—as it will—God can be found there too. Theoretically we understood this, but our bewilderment in the face of bottomless pain confirmed our lack of praxis. Simply put, we weren’t living what we believed because we’d never had the chance to.
Although God wasn’t the source of our suffering, we were beginning to learn that what the enemy of our souls used against us could be transformed by the redemptive hand of our wonder-working God as he reshaped our loss into an invitation to greater life.
Disarming our Knee-Jerk Reaction to Grief
We couldn’t discern it yet, but God was hovering, preparing to create something new like he always does when all we see is dark, formless, and void. Scarlett took us deeper, but we had to be willing to disarm our knee-jerk instinct to distract, numb, or overcome our pain. We had to resist the impulse to deflect our grief or fight our brokenness. We had to reject the compulsion to figure out how this could be rewritten into a success story. We had to enter in as is.
The spectacle of heaven is that it’s birthed into the low places. It’s revealed when Jesus is allowed to enter into the lives of those who know their need for him: a woman caught in adultery, a fraud and a cheat, a hotheaded loudmouth, a terrorist, a thief, a diseased outcast . . . a mother staring at an empty ultrasound screen. Heaven is not merely a destination: it’s the Spirit of God writing a redemption story right here and now amidst our brokenness.
Birthplace of Revelation
Trauma can be the birthplace of revelation if we’re willing to be exposed to our need and welcome Jesus there. But it’s hard to be needy, isn’t it? We’re more comfortable being the helper than the helped. We’d rather be the ones lowering our friend through the roof to Jesus than being so broken we’ve got to be carried there ourselves.
Choosing to walk in the way of vulnerability before God and others takes a certain kind of resolve. It requires tapping into a different place than where we store our ability to grit our teeth and sidestep pain. It looks less like scaling a mountain and more like crawling to an altar—laying ourselves bare before Jesus, weapons and defenses dropped, pride abandoned, hearts wide open asking for deliverance. He sees our lack and names it Beautiful, and we’ve never felt more loved.
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity? . . . I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:35, 38 New Living Translation).
In the face of suffering, Jesus stretches out his hand. Will we accept the invitation to dive deep under the waves rather than try to tame or outrun them?
Will we understand we’re still loved?
This post was adapted from Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker, excerpts from Chapter 3: The Spectacle of Heaven and Chapter 4: From the Dust with permission from Baker Books © 2018