Sometimes as Christians I think we struggle with knowing how to take care of our brothers and sisters who struggle. In my experience, we know how to rejoice with fellow believers who are in a good place. We know the 'correct' response is to say we'll pray for each other when we're aware there is something wrong. We know how to throw ourselves into ministering to the lost. But when a brother or sister is really struggling I think we get lost and have a few different reactions.
The fact that I can write this post is testament to Christ's ability to get me from the deep dark hole I was in just 8 months (or so) ago. It was almost a year ago when we learned we were infertile. And in our time we've certainly faced our share of reactions. One of my favorite chapters of one of my favorite books, Hannah's Hope, is titled "Put Yourself in My Shoes, before you put your foot in your mouth...". (I just love that!!!). Although I think that infertility, like few other topics like additction, are quite taboo or at least misunderstood, I think that it's not the only thorn that we don't know how to support. One of the biggest challenges in being a Christian going through such heavy trials is trying to get other Christians to understand the depths of the situation. There are a few typical reactions...avoidance and blame are pretty key, and yet when a Christian brings these up he/she often finds that other Christians will resopnd not with apologies or support but instead with more avoidance or blame. This of course is a shame as it leaves the one originally hurting with even more hurt.
But familiar. As I processed some of the reactions I've received and the reactions I've heard others have received I remembered the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). And so I've taken the liberty to rewrite it here:
There once was a man and woman heading down the path of life. Although they had faults and fears they attempted daily to be like Christ. One day, they felt the nudging to unite in the attempt to conceive. After years and years of trying, for reasons unknown to them, the enemy was allowed to rob them of the natural ability to conceive. Their union was not allowed to be fruitful and multiply as commanded to forefathers before. Instead, the evil one was allowed to trample their bodies to prevent conception through the destruction of reproductive equipment. But this was not enough. The thief also came to steal, kill, and destroy the hearts and souls of these two, but finding he could not as they belonged to Christ, he chose instead to do all he could to break their spirits and crush their security, as he'd done to Job in years past, hoping to do as much damage as possible. They were left in tears, shambles, pain. Unbearable oppressive pain. They were left alive, and although their souls were still aware of the one true hope, their Earthly bodies, their emotions, everything they knew in Earthly life lay dying in the gutter.
They managed to pull themselves up from the gutter to the sidewalk, hoping their brothers and sisters would be able to see them in their state and help them to their feet. They were able to grab hold of the heels of their closest family and friends hoping they'd know what to do to get them help. But because they were busy and because they were unable to cope with their closest friend/family in pain, they patted their friends heads, shook their heels free, and moved on with their lives. On the way home they crossed to the other side to avoid awkward conversations or interactions. The infertile couple could see their friends and famiily as they passed by in the distance, laughing and enjoying their normal lives, unable to get up from the gutter they were pushed into once again. It was all they could do to continue facing up knowing their rescue would come soon.
The night passed and to their relief they found in the morning that it was the day of the Lord. Surely today would bring relief of some of the pain as they joined with their friends and family to celebrate their Christ, the resurrected one. Surely someone would, in remembrance of what their Lord did for them, reach down to help them to their feet to walk with their brother and sister to the foot of the cross, literally helping them carry their burden before Christ even though their present state was not "Sunday best". Instead, wanting to protect their "full of joy" state and cleanliness presented in their clothes, they crossed the street and avoided the wreck in the middle of the sidewalk. Afterall, if their friends really were Christians they'd recognize that Christ deserved to be praised in the middle of their crisis and they would have been the first at church. Surely their faith must have been suffering due to their sin and, how, after knowing Christ could they have turned away and chosen to live in sin that led them into their current state. How selfish they were to try and make their brothers and sisters late, trying to get them to stop their normal daily lives that were already full to help them pick up their pieces. Some went as far as to yell condemnations at them as they stepped right over. "You're so selfish for wanting us to stop our lives to help you". "You're so inconsiderate to ask us to help carry your burden". "You've lost your faith". "I can see by your state you are no longer walking in the way of the Lord". The friends failed to notice that their legs were no longer working, at least temporarily, and they couldn't walk anywhere though they desperately sought the comfort of their King.
As their friends passed by they began to hear the worship songs from the sanctuary. They could hear the music just enough to be reminded that they were not there, where they were supposed to be, leaping with joy that they were clean. And yet they weren't at the moment. Their souls were still safe and God was still on the throne but they were in a horrible state...saved but still wretched at least for the moment. As their friends and family went on with their daily lives, worshipping together in the sanctuary, they were left wondering if they still belonged. They knew their Savior would save them, somehow, but in the meantime they were left dodging the Sunday morning drivers with everything they had. One more hit might be what it would take, or so it felt, to allow the thief what he came for. Then it started raining. It didn't seem it could be much worse.
And it was then, through their tears, together in the storm they held each other tight and renewed their strength. Surprisingly, or at least it surprised them, a few strangers came by and helped them out of the side of the street. They certainly weren't what the couple had expected to save them...as their brothers and sisters and family and friends passed them by a few people, familiar with the street themselves, had stopped to lend a hand. A few minutes spent listening, a hug or two, a cup of coffee....this was all that was needed to give these two the strength needed to get them to the cross. And an amazing thing happened. These strangers who clearly were averse to the concept of attending themselves, not only helped carry these two into the service nearby but stayed with them by their sides until the couple had regained their strength. Then, they arranged for a group of caring folks to surround them 24-hours a day until the couple returned to ok. This obviously cost the strangers much and they didn't seem to have much to spare, but they gave all they had because they knew the couple needed help. And they cared. Then they went on with their business checking in from time to time to ensure the couple had not gone back to face what they'd faced before without significant support.
Please know that although I wrote this with obviously a little bit of flavor of what we went through, it is intended to be generic and not aimed at a certain person or group of people in their lives. If you find yourself wondering if I'm aiming this at you, please try to remove yourself from the situation and consider the story in itself because again, this is not something exclusive to us or even infertility. There are plenty of thorns we are allowed to carry in life that suck but eventually are intended to lead us more to Christ. As the story of the Good Samaritan reminds us, and hopefully my version above does the same, we are to love our God with all our heart and love each other as we would ourselves. The best example of this, as indicated in the Bible, is the Good Samaritan (or the strangers in my story above). This has certainly convicted me in knowing that I must take better care of my brothers and sisters. I also challenge you...if you know of someone that is struggling with infertility, or anything really, think about your reaction...who are/were you in the story? The closest friends and family who ignored the situation because you couldn't stand to see your loved ones in pain? The brothers & sisters in Christ who failed to "remove your own log" before condemning the couple? If so, I challenge you to seek Christ for forgiveness first and then encourage you to reach out to "the couple" in your life to see if you can help them now. Chances are they might still need it. Please know that not all "strangers" will lead the hurting Christian down the right path and will provide more comfort and safety that the "couple" will choose to abandon those who abandoned them in favor of something that in the end might lead to death. We cannot own the decisions of others but certainly have a responsibility in our daily walk to ensure we are doing everything in our power to love our brothers and sisters in an active way, picking them up and carrying them when they have fallen.
If you were the figurative stranger, may you be blessed and may your active love always be rewarded. May you not grow tired in your endeavors to love others as Christ loves us, which, by the way, meant he went as far as to lay down His life for us.