Peter's Note: My first book (which you can order here) releases at the end of this month, and the editors at Christianity Today have been gracious enough to allow me to post a few excerpts over the next few weeks. This particular passage, which has been edited for length and context, is taken from chapter 2, entitled "Prepare For Brokenness":
The emergency room doctor swept the ultrasound probe to different areas of Carol's stomach, one moment by the belly, then the hip, and back to the belly. We could hear constant static, whooshes, followed by static again. He finally put down the probe, and gently placing his hand on Carol’s shoulder, said, “Guys, I hate to tell you this, but I wasn’t able to find a heartbeat with the ultrasound. Carol, I’m pretty sure you had a miscarriage.”
Carol and I looked at each other and didn’t say a word. He continued, “I know this is hard, but I want to just tell you that this kind of thing happens all the time. Most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant before they’ve miscarried. It doesn’t mean that you can’t get pregnant again either. It’s just one of those sad things that often happens during pregnancy.”
On our drive home from the hospital, I didn’t have much to say to Carol, but figured that I eventually would have something comforting or insightful to share with her. I just needed some time to process things.
The rest of that summer was difficult on Carol. She had to adjust to the loss of the baby, a life that had been growing inside of her, which she had just started to cherish. Carol began to give away all of our baby clothes and toys, convinced she would never get pregnant again. And then eventually, as is the case with natural miscarriage, she passed the fetus from her body, a horrific end to an already traumatic process.
Still, through this all, I had little to share with her, no words of comfort and no real understanding of what she was going through. My silence was not lost on Carol either. We got into many more disagreements than usual during this time, and during one of our dust-ups, she said how she felt like I didn’t understand what she was going through.
I was preparing a sharp retort when I realized that she was right—I didn’t understand what she was going through. I couldn’t sympathize with her, couldn’t connect with her experience. I knew the miscarriage was supposed to be a big deal, I truly did. But it didn’t feel like that big of a deal, not to me. And because I didn’t know how I should feel, I didn’t know what to say.
Now I take full responsibility for my lack of appropriate response to my wife’s miscarriage, and to intimate anything else would be ridiculous. But at the same time, I wonder if church had something to do with it. I’ve never heard miscarriage addressed in church, except in a very passing and indirect way. I have certainly never heard a sermon on it. Neither do I remember any references to miscarriage in seminary either, although I did have several discussions on “supralapsarianism”.
The more I thought about this, the more it bothered me. After all, miscarriages are common. And I could clearly see that miscarriages could be traumatic for women, as it was for my wife. Then why had I never heard this common and traumatic topic addressed in any meaningful way, in any Christian setting—the church, fellowship, even in seminary, for two decades?
I think it has something to do with the word brokenness.
I have honestly never heard “brokenness” used outside of the Christian context. But in Christian circles, it is a commonly used term, liberally sprinkled throughout sermons, songs, and books. It is a word that describes twin ideas of tremendous spiritual significance: the process by which God refines people, but also the attitude of humility that we take before God. It is a good word.
But brokenness is also a euphemism. And like all euphemisms, it distances us from reality.
I have discovered that Christians have something of a love affair with euphemism. This is understandable and even warranted, as the Christian life involves theological or spiritual concepts that cannot be described in any other way. But these wonderfully poetic words can also be terribly deceptive ones, allowing us to bypass the need to mention harsh realities by name, and so ignore their existence. With a knowing wink and a nod, we can talk about brokenness and/or “fallenness” without having to talk about what “fallenness” actually entails.
Incidentally, my computer’s spell check function refuses to even recognize “fallenness” as a real word.
This always makes me think of the time I visited the Department of Justice. The walls of the DoJ are covered in huge murals, one of the more striking of which was painted by John Steuart Curry. In the mural, a man holding a rope leads a mob in pursuit of a single man, flames burning in the background. And the only one standing in between the mob and its prey is a judge, holding them at bay at the courthouse steps with a single upraised hand.
Curry could have just as easily painted a symbolic scene that included a classical blind-folded Lady Justice, holding her sword and scales, with her carved sandal stomping on a snake. But he instead painted a terrible but very real moment of failure from our history. And that way, we are not allowed to gloss over or remain disconnected from justice and its inverse: injustice is not a theoretical idea. It is when a mob chases a man down, puts a rope around his neck, and hangs him from a tree for an assumed but unproven crime. That’s “injustice.”
I think it’s important that Christians do the same and summon up the courage to call things by their proper names. We have to stop relying so heavily upon spiritual euphemisms to describe the hardest elements of our life, and recognize that a spirit of avoidance is not always the same as the spirit of peace. We need to say the words “miscarriage,” “mental illness,” and “drug addiction”, not for the shock value those words hold, but so that we can deal with them directly, and without shame. If we do not, and instead content ourselves only with speaking euphemistically, we leave people dreadfully unprepared for the reality of life, even a life with Christ.
But I don’t want to go too far in my criticism of the church. Like I said earlier, the responsibility was on me as a husband to listen to Carol and figure out how best to support her. And what's more, there are some moments where it doesn’t matter how direct or honest you are about suffering, because nothing will prepare you for the enormity of what you face. This was a truth that my wife and I were about to discover firsthand.