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Living in the Light

 

 

The Good Shepherd and the Mom Who Miscarries

Jessalyn Hutto

I awoke from the anesthesia into a different world. The last remnants of my pregnancy—and my baby— had been removed from my body by a surgeon’s skillful hand. The bright future I had envisioned for our family had been replaced by a painful reality. Life had been exchanged for death, and the womb where my baby once grew was now empty. I had known beforehand that my baby was gone, for I had delivered most of the pregnancy in our apartment. Still, this final step put a painful last seal on a horrific chapter of my life. I rode home with my husband and mother oblivious to anything but my deep feelings of loss.

Loss Invisible

Few people understand the pain a woman feels when she learns that her unborn baby has died. The depth of her suffering is understandably intense, but because of the hidden nature of her loss, few people can relate to her grief. In reality, her suffering may go completely unnoticed. After all, most miscarriages occur before a pregnancy is obvious, an invisibility that only multiplies the grieving mother’s pain.

If she shares the tragedy of the miscarriage with family and friends, they often don’t know how to respond helpfully. How do they mourn a life they never experienced and may not even have known about? Even a caring and sensitive husband can find it difficult to understand the intense grief his wife may experience. The mother, on the other hand, has felt the physical effects of her pregnancy and perhaps watched the child’s tiny movements on an ultrasound. It’s possible that she even felt the first miraculous flutters of her baby kicking! Her child may have dominated her thoughts and prayers, making the loss tangible and severely painful. When others forget—often quite quickly—about the life she once carried, her grief only grows heavier.

God Knows and Understands

Women who miscarry often feel isolated in their grief because of the intensely personal loss they’ve experienced. They must seek to remember, or perhaps discover for the rst time, that their Savior is ready and willing to comfort them in their sorrow. Indeed, even the feelings of isolation can be a great blessing, for isolation from all worldly comforts forces us to draw comfort from the Lord himself.

In his anguish, the psalmist David said that God counted his tossings and kept his tears (Psalm 56:8). That is, he believed that God intimately understood his personal grief. We can have the same confidence that God sees our suffering and knows how deeply we mourn. Nothing goes unnoticed: he knows our own hearts and minds even better than we do (1 Chronicles 28:9). He sees our pain, he hears our cries, and he is perfectly suited to help us in our time of need.

No Stranger to Suffering

At the heart of the Bible is the gospel, and at the heart of the gospel is the unswerving, undeserved, and incomprehensible love of God for his people. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity’s history has been characterized by pain and suffering. Blood flows through the storyline of our Bibles as predominately as the ink they are printed with. Just as God decreed, sinful mankind lives under a curse of pain, toil, and death from one generation to the next. Indeed, the apostle Paul tells us that death reigned through Adam and his offspring until Christ came (Romans 5:17). Since that fateful day in the garden when Adam and Eve chose to rebel, the human race has been subjected to the rule of sin and misery.

But our loving God sent his eternal Son to deliver us from the shackles of pain and death. Jesus came to rescue his beloved people from the eternal judgment they deserved for their sin. He did this not by triumphantly bursting into our world with the power and majesty his eternal holiness would suggest, but by humbly taking on the frailty of human flesh and willingly entering into humanity’s suffering. In a startling display of love, the holy God of the universe chose to be conceived within the weak and vulnerable womb of a virgin and develop there for nine months before being born into our sin- soaked world. He then lived an ordinary (though sinless!) and pain-filled life amongst his finite creatures. He felt the frailty of the human body, saw the pain of death all around him, and experienced the ongoing temptation toward sin all the days of his earthly life (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus entered our world and partook of the inheritance we had secured through sin, so that one day we could partake of the glorious inheritance he would secure for us through his sacrificial death on the cross (1 Peter 1:3–4). He did this to defeat humanity’s ancient enemies, sin and death. God promised this very solution to Adam and Eve after they rebelled: though Eve would suffer the curse of painful and difficult childbearing (something starkly illustrated in miscarriage), it would be through childbearing that the rescuer would come. It would be through Adam and Eve’s offspring that Satan, and his reign of death, would finally be defeated (Genesis 3:15).

But before this happened, the “offspring” would suffer personal sacrifice; God decreed that the serpent (Satan) would bruise the offspring’s heel (Genesis 3:15). In other words, the way of Jesus’ victory would be paved by misery as he entered into man’s cursed condition, making him a worthy substitute for his fallen people (Isaiah 53:4).

Man of Sorrows! what a name For the Son of God, who came Ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
— Philip P. Bliss

And so, on that spectacular night more than 2,000 years ago, the God of the universe took on human flesh. He was born into our world through blood and water as a tiny, helpless baby. He was a heavenly king, but his people didn’t recognize him as such. Indeed, he had come to rescue them from the very sin that prevented them from doing so. 

The incarnation offers beautiful hope for the woman who has miscarried. The death of a baby within the womb is a painful reminder—if not one of the most fundamental expressions—of death’s curse over humanity. The good news is that Jesus came to reverse exactly that curse. Mankind was created to multiply and to fill the earth, subduing and caring for it as God’s regents, but humanity struggles to fulfill this basic function. Husbands and wives groan under this devastating reality as they watch their precious offspring die even before they are born. Many of our children return to the dust before we do, forcing us to observe helplessly the tragic wages of sin. 

The Savior was born into this broken reality. Our God chose to enter our world through flesh and blood, entering our suffering in order to free us from it. The eternal Son of God became a Son of Man, first by becoming a zygote, and then an embryo, and then a fetus. Finally, he was victoriously born into our world as a fully developed baby. This was necessary so that he could wage war against the very foe that has taken so many precious, pre-born babies:

Since therefore the children share in esh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
— Hebrews 2:14–15
O loving wisdom of our God,
When all was sin and shame
A second Adam to the fight
And to the rescue came.

O wisest love, that flesh and blood
That did in Adam fail
Should strive afresh against the foe
Should strive and should prevail.
— John Henry Newman and Maurice Francis Egan

 

Tears of Blood

Entering into humanity’s suffering allowed our holy God to experience the effects of sin as we do. He doesn’t only see our pain from a distance, and he doesn’t only collect our tears in his bottle as a faithful observer. Rather, he himself has shed tears of pain and sorrow—tears of unhindered grief (John 11:35, Hebrews 5:7, Matthew 27:46). His precious tears are now counted among the waves of grief experienced by the human race through- out time. We are told in Hebrews 2:17–18 that Jesus endured suffering and temptation so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest able to help us in our times of weakness. Doesn’t every woman who has miscarried long for someone to perfectly understand her pain? According to Paul, Jesus can and does comfort all those who share in his suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5).

In the 33 years that Jesus walked this dusty earth, he was subjected to all of the same temptations and trials that we are. His sufferings allow him to identify with his suffering people in many ways, but I want to focus on three specific ways in which Jesus can relate to—and therefore perfectly comfort—the woman who has miscarried. It is my prayer that the pain women have experienced in miscarriage will allow them to see Jesus’ voluntary, sacrifcial suffering with new intensity and gratitude. As we look at these three ways in which Jesus has suffered, may it remind us of his willingness and ability to comfort us during our times of grief. May it increase our love and affection for our marvelous God! For he truly is the “good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11).

1. Loneliness and Isolation

The trial of miscarriage is unique. Those who have not experienced the pregnancy may find it hard to understand, so the bereaved mother often carries the unseen loss quietly within her heart, leaving her feeling alone. But there is one perfectly suited to sympathize with her pain and feelings of loneliness. When tempted to feel isolated and misunderstood, she must run to Jesus. Though deserving of honor and praise and adoration, Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). He never felt at home in this world, saying “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The Savior’s life was often characterized by loneliness, injustice, and misunderstanding.

As the perfect substitute for his people, it was essential that Jesus live victoriously in ways that fallen humanity could not. But in many respects, this led to isolation. Consider how Jesus, amid great spiritual torment the night before his murder, asked his closest friends simply to stay awake and pray with him. Of course they could not. He would soon face the greatest trial a man has ever suffered, but not even his friends could understand his agony. How could they? They were the very ones he had come to rescue. And as Jesus walked the road to Calvary, as the nails pierced his esh, as the rough wood of the cross rubbed against his broken skin, his eternal Father turned his face away from him in judgment.

Jesus suffered and died utterly alone, without a single friend to help bear his burden. Indeed many of his friends hid to escape a similar execution. This is the Jesus we can confidently approach with our feelings of loneliness. This is the God who said to his disciples after victoriously rising from the grave and before ascending into heaven: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

2. Fear and Anxiety

A miscarriage is often more of a process than a single event, which means that its pain and fears can last for a long time. You experience cramping or notice a little spotting. Your doctor can’t find a heartbeat at your regular checkup. Without warning, you begin a grueling process of waiting—waiting to see if you will lose your baby and waiting to see if your life is about to be turned upside down with grief. Similarly, after a miscarriage, fear of loss threatens to eclipse the joy of each new pregnancy you are blessed with. Every day is a battle to trust God with the future of your unborn child, no matter what God’s will may be. But take heart in knowing that our Savior acutely understands these battles to trust him—in the waiting and in the process of loss.

Let’s take a closer look at our Savior’s dark night in the garden of Gethsemane. There, while his friends slumbered, the Savior agonized alone. As he spent the night in prayer, preparing for the suffering ahead of him, we see a holy war taking place. In those frightful moments, Jesus was faced with the temptation to reject his Father’s will and refuse to bear the sins of men. Indeed, the weight of mankind’s destiny upon his shoulders was so great that he begged for another way, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). So intense were the emotions coursing through his veins that great drops of bloody sweat rolled down from his brow. Yet, in humble obedience, he finished his prayer with these victorious words: “Nev- ertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). The road before him was far worse than any imaginable nightmare, but Jesus set his mind on his Father and therefore conquered the temptation to let fear overcome him.

The woman who has miscarried desperately needs to fellowship with her Savior in the garden. What woman would not similarly ask the Lord to remove the bitter cup of miscarriage from her? As she begins to feel the cramps signaling the loss of her baby, remembering her suffering Savior can be a precious balm to her soul, for he too was tempted to fear the road set before him. I found this account of Jesus particularly comforting as I experienced new pregnancies after my miscarriages. It was dificult to trust the Lord with the future of each new baby. Knowing that even Jesus had struggled to accept his Father’s will gave me a great peace; he had come through the same temptation victoriously, so he could understand me and comfort me. Jesus faced a horrific reality and still trusted his Father, so he knows the emotions experienced by a woman who miscarries.

3. Intimate Loss

One of the greatest tragedies of miscarriage is the intimate nature of losing a child still within you. The unborn baby, though distinct in its humanity, is still very much a part of the mother; her body physically sustains that life, feeding and protecting the developing baby. Emotionally, she loves and cares for her unborn baby with the intensity only a parent can understand. Then suddenly, through the tragedy of miscarriage, her baby is torn from her body; the child she has loved so dearly is no longer living, the unique soul who resided within her no longer there. The separation seems beyond dreadful.

Once again, however, our Savior is well equipped to minister to us in our time of need. Dan G. McCartney says that Jesus can empathize with us in our grief over broken relationships: “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible...the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.”

The Father, Son, and Spirit have lived as one for all eternity past. Though each is unique in personhood, they enjoy perfect, unhindered unity and fellowship as one being. We call this mystery the Trinity, and it is the distinct nature of the God whom Christians worship. Jesus had experienced this beautiful, mysterious relationship of oneness for all of eternity with the Father and Spirit. In John 1:18, Jesus is described as being eternally in the “bosom” of the Father and in John 17:24, Jesus says that the Father, “loved [him] before the foundation of the world.”

No human relationship has ever known this intensity of love or this level of utter satisfaction in the fellowship of another—not even a mother in relation- ship to her child. Yet, what we see at the cross is the Father voluntarily giving up his beloved Son to death and judgment as well as the Son voluntarily giving up his life as a willing sacri ce to redeem his people. We see a disruption in their exquisite relationship with one another—a void where there had once been infinite blessedness.

In that holy moment when God turned his back on his beloved Son and judged him for the sins of men, John Calvin suggests that Jesus was understandably “seized with horror, which would have been sufficient to swallow up a hundred times all the men in the world.”  Thus, the eternal Son of God cried out in misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Surely no pain of separation and loss will ever compare to the horror of that moment. This was the judgment he voluntarily took upon himself in order to save the souls of men. And as he cried, “It is finished,” he yielded up his spirit to his Father and died as our perfect substitute. This is the God who offers his fellowship to you. Run to him, and find comfort where it is abounding!

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To Know and Be Like Him

Suffering is not unique to Christians, but the way in which we experience it differs greatly from the way the rest of the world does. The Bible says that we have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:5, 2 Corinthians 4:10, Galatians 2:20) and that we, as his church, are members of his body (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 5:23). This unity between Jesus and his ransomed people greatly affects the way we suffer because it means that we do not suffer alone. We face loss, pain, and death as those loved and comforted by our holy Savior. Jesus tasted death (Hebrews 2:9) and experienced grief partly for the purpose of personally sympathizing with us. He “nourishes and cherishes” us (Ephesians 5:29) and prays for us even now (Romans 8:34). Indeed, because Christ voluntarily experienced the wrath of God on our behalf, we can experience his perfect and all-sufficient love for all of eternity.

What’s more, as we suffer and experience the unique fellowship of the Son of God in our grief, our lives are being molded to more greatly resemble his, and our affections are being stirred toward greater love for him. In this way, our suffering with Christ makes us more like Christ as we behold him with greater clarity. This is the fountain from which all sanctification flows, and suffering is perfectly suited to drive us to the Good Shepherd who so lovingly suffered on behalf of his lost sheep.


A Prayer for the Suffering Mother

Loving Savior, as this beloved sister walks through the immense suffering of losing her baby, would you help her to see how deeply you love her? Would you remind her that you too have suffered the devastating effects of the fall, but that you did so in order to free her from the curse of death? Use this time of intense grief to draw her into greater fellowship with you, that she may be conformed to your image, for her great good and your great glory.

I pray all these things because of your substitutionary sacrifice, 

Amen.


This is an altered quote from my book Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb. You can find a copy here.