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The baby died

May 5, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

This Sunday, I will begin a new preaching series on suffering, loss, lament, and trust, using Lamentation and the Psalms of lament as the backdrop. In light of this, I am replaying what I wrote on this blog on September 11th, 2007, after going through a very personal loss.

“The baby died.”

If there were a list of things you hope you never have to hear, “the baby died” would have to be up near the top, somewhere right above “I’m leaving you” and “It’s definitely cancerous.” Last Wednesday, as I was on the phone with Andy Hood, my cell phone began to ring, with an unfamiliar Manchester number on the caller ID. I had warned Andy that my wife was at an appointment at the OB/GYN office, and that she would be calling anytime, so he graciously said good-bye and allowed me to answer the incoming call, where I heard a hysterical voice punch me in the gut with those three words:

“The baby died.”

I’m not sure my feet even touched the ground as I slammed my office door shut and flew downstairs, out of the building, and into my car. I can’t remember if I even grabbed my wallet or anything else in my mad dash outside. And I don’t want to know how many cars I cut off as I swerved my way down the main roads and side streets from Main Street, Glastonbury to West Center Street, Manchester. The only thing I could think about through the tears was being with my wife and kids and holding them close through the pain.

It has almost been a week since the news of my wife’s miscarriage took our feet out from under us. But thank God that as our feet flew up and our bodies flew backwards, we have landed safely in the arms of Jesus and His church. This past Sunday at NewLife, I shared how the biggest difference for me between my pre-Jesus days and my post-Jesus days is the foundation upon which my life is built. As Jesus put it in Matthew 7, the one who hears His words and acts on them is like the wise man who builds his house on the rock, so that when the storms come, the house does not fall. But the one who hears His words and does not act on them is like the foolish man who builds his house on the sand, so that when the storms come, the house collapses. In my life, this has always meant that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you move from a shack to a mansion (“since I asked Jesus to be my Savior, my paychecks are bigger, my girlfriends are hotter, and even my teeth are whiter!”); it means that when the storms of life come, there is a rock that will not let you crumble. Or, as Paul put it, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Knowing Jesus means that hearing “the baby died” is not the last word.

But it’s still a devastating thing to hear.

In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, about companies who made the leap from mediocre to thriving, he talks about something called “The Stockdale Paradox.” Named after the late Admiral James Stockdale’s experience as a POW, the Stockdale Paradox is a courageous outlook on a difficult situation that accepts the brutal facts of reality while maintaining an unwavering faith in the future hope and a commitment to prevail despite the brutal facts. Now, losing a child is very different than leading a company, but I’ve seen a lot of similarities as we’ve dealt with last week’s tragedy. Consider two possible reactions to dealing with a tragic situation:  One approach would be to accept the brutal facts of reality, but not have any faith or commitment to bring you safely up out of the valley. I know that there are plenty of people who find themselves unable to ever really move on a tragic loss. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 4:13 that we who know Jesus should not grieve as the rest of men, “who have no hope.” I can not imagine what it must be like to lose a baby without having the rock of Jesus Christ undergirding your life. 

A second approach to tragic loss would be to maintain an unwavering faith and commitment but never accept the brutal facts of reality. This is exemplified by those well-meaning people who try their best to explain away loss with trite expressions like “God must have needed another angel.” Always trying to remain positive, these people refuse to really look in the mirror or let the hard truth penetrate their hearts, for fear that they would fall apart and never recover.

God-willing, our grief will be like the Stockdale Paradox – accepting the brutal facts of reality, but at the same time maintaining an unwavering faith in the future hope and a commitment to prevail despite the brutal facts. These are the brutal facts of reality as I see them – we have lost a baby, who will never live a day in this world. He will never know the joy of playing with his brothers, never sit on my lap as I read him a bedtime story, never snuggle up to his mother and fall asleep. We have lost something that we will never get back this side of eternity, and the hole will never be filled by anything this world has to offer. And behind this brutal reality is an even more difficult truth: this world is broken. People die before their time, natural disasters destroy lives, and sin and chaos and sorrow do not always go away with a quick prayer and commitment to move on. Grief work takes time, much more time than we wish it would.

In the most incredible chapter in the Bible, Romans 8, Paul wrote that the created world waits in eager expectation for the renewal that will happen when Jesus returns. He writes that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” and that those who know Jesus “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). It’s a perfect picture of the brutal reality – the created world is groaning, and those who know Jesus are groaning like a woman in labor, waiting for the day when, as John wrote, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). Knowing Jesus means when I hear “the baby died,” I am allowed to grieve, to wail, to mourn, to groan, to stare the brutal facts of reality in the face and feel the pain to its fullness.

The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most powerful – “Jesus wept” (John 11:34). When Jesus was confronted with the death of his friend, Lazarus, he did not stand there stoically, saying “why are you grieving?  God just needed another angel, that’s all!  Just be thankful and praise God!” Jesus cried. His tears reveal to us that this is not the way it was meant to be, and one day this is not the way it will be. Suffering and death are a part of living in this broken world, and while God allows it to happen, it is not the way it was meant to be, nor is it the way it will be one day. I believe that when my wife and I were collapsed in a sobbing heap on the floor in the OB’s office, Jesus wept right along with us.

And therein lies the hope. While knowing Jesus allows us to face the brutal facts that our baby has died, that an irreversible loss has occurred, it also gives us extraordinary faith, hope, and love in the midst of intense pain. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we know that, as Paul says a few verses later in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God is so good that He is able to take the worst loss and bring good out of it. My wife and I look back at the past week and are so thankful that, as sad as we are, we have grown stronger in our marriage and been the recipients of such extraordinary care from our church, family and friends. God has gently answered prayers in the midst of our tragedy, none bigger than causing Michele to deliver an intact baby at home on Thursday night, giving us a whole night to spend with our baby in prayer and sadness before bringing him to the hospital on Friday morning. 

Above all, we place our hope in our loving and merciful God, that one day we will see our baby again. For the hope of eternity, of life beyond the grave, we give thanks to Jesus. And we believe that because of his saving grace, the last word will not be “the baby died,” but “the baby is alive forevermore.”

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