Monday, July 7, 2008

Faith and Hyperemesis - Part II

Well, I thought that I may as well get started on this subject! I have procrastinated long enough. Really, I have just wanted to get enough thinking and reading on the subject done to write coherently, but I think that that would take years - possibly a lifetime - or longer! So I may as well get my preliminary thoughts on paper and go from there.

The problem of Christian faith and hyperemesis is not unique. In fact, it's really not "faith and hyperemesis" at all - it is "faith and human suffering." I can imagine going through the same spiritual angst following the death of a child or any other anguish, physical or mental/spiritual/emotional.

Is there a true difference between physical and mental suffering? I really don't know. Both can cause one to question one's faith profoundly, and both can cause true anguish.

The only difference that I can see right now is that physical suffering is generally more "here and now" than mental suffering, at least in the case of hyperemesis. Mental suffering (grief, etc.) generally knows times of relief (during sleep, social gatherings, moments of humor, etc., although there are exceptions), while physical suffering is generally non-stop - especially with hyperemesis, where the nausea just rolls on and on and on without mercy and without relief.

However, I don't want to make exhorbitant claims for HG. I think I've gone off on an irrelevant tangent, anyhow. My main point was that intense suffering, in any form, can cause one to question God and one's faith. Even if it doesn't cause one to lose faith, it can cause anger, rebellion, depression, defiance, etc. against God.

The problem with human suffering is simply that it is so easy to justify on paper in a universal and theological sense. The whys and wherefores of suffering are childishly easy to understand when written down and observed from a distance. No problems there! The problem comes when one is in the suffering - when one is praying and begging for relief that does not come - when instead the torture continues and even increases as one prays. This is when God seems far away, cold, distant, uncaring, or even nonexistent. When one is in the midst of unbearable suffering, one cannot work systematically through the academic reasons behind suffering and be comforted.

Here are my main questions regarding the Christian faith and hyperemesis (or any form of suffering, although this may be more applicable to physical suffering):

(1) How can I know that God is truly loving?
(2) How can I know that my suffering has eternal value?
(3) How can I make peace with past suffering?
(4) How can I make peace with possible future suffering?

Now that I've written them out, let's take them one at a time:

(1) How can I know that God is truly loving?

Okay, let's start by stating the obvious. I know that God is loving. Academically and biblically, I know it. It's a matter of being able to feel and trust that God is loving to the core of one's being. After undergoing immense suffering, it is hard to feel and truly believe in one's heart that God is loving.

The typical response (that I usually think of, that is) is to compare God's relationship with us to the relationship that we have with animals. In other words, we sometimes have to do things to our much-loved pets (grooming, medical procedures, discipline, etc.) that they do not understand (and never will) and which they think of as cruel and unkind. It's hard to make this relate with HG, simply because we do not torture our animals - and HG (and other diseases) are a type of torture. The answer to that, of course, is that the mental/spiritual difference between us and God is infinitely greater than that between us and the animals, and we are thus much less able to understand God's care for us than even our animals understand our care for them. As always, it's easy to know and hard to know.

(2) How can I know that my suffering has eternal value?

Or, stated differently, How can I know that God is truly sovereign?

Having only recently been exposed to the doctrines of Calvinism, divine sovereignty is a relatively new concept to me - and a very comforting one, on the whole. I cannot confess to being a 5-point Calvinist, in that I am not yet willing to accept the doctrine of election as taught by Calvinism, and have problems with many of the other 5-points (happily finding myself in company with C.S. Lewis, among others). Therefore God's sovereignty as taught by hyper-Calvinist churches (as being heavily involved with the doctrine of election) is not quite my thing, but I believe in God's sovereignty very strongly - that God is 100% in control and that all things are being worked out by God for eternal good. (How's that for bad grammar and hard reading?)

It's harder to see human suffering as having value when it is not directly linked to the Christian faith. Human suffering due to one's faith is easy to perceive as having eternal value - such as the sufferings of the suffering church or the Christian martyrs. But suffering from physical problems is harder to see clearly as having eternal value.

My friend J. writes:

"Something that really helped me come to terms with the depths of my grief was just to acknowledge that there was purpose in it. Even when I didn't know what it was, I had to cling to what my head knew outside of my broken heart, which was that God is good, and that for the believer, there is no suffering that is apart from His goodness or that is beyond His divine plan. Clinging to that got me through more days than one."

Here is one thing that I wrote to J. on the subject, with her response:

"In a darker way it can reach to a doubt of God's existence. What if evolution is really all there is? What if life is a meaningless struggle to pass on one's genes out of blind obedience to natural selection and suffering is just a meaningless, pointless exercise in futility which matters for nothing?"

"I would answer that getting to the end of life and finding that this is all there is really does nothing to change the notion of suffering with forbearance. In most cases of great suffering, there is little we can do to change the situation and avoid the suffering. I think to some degree, appreciating the pain as purposeful is for OUR benefit. I imagine I would find myself even more bereft if I believed the pain was pointless.

"As I think I've shared before, CS Lewis wrote about suffering that the danger is not in denying God's existence, but in realizing "a ha, so this is who you really are." That is such a tempting thought to indulge. And I did, for a while.

"As I explored the thoughts though, and explored the flipside-a life with no trials, no refining, and no enlargement of heart, I came to the conclusion that God must be good and He must allow suffering. A God who left me at the mercy of my sinful heart to indulge myself to the fullest and pursue whatever makes me "happy" would not be good at all for I would quickly be given over to sin entirely.

"A God who thwarted the "free" will of man, and the natural order of things would not be acting in love at all but would be a dictator or machinist. It is out of His great love for us that He permits us to act in our "free" will which unfortunately means that He must also restrain Himself when we abuse it. What that amounts to is a world full of mire and pain. Bodies don't work as they should, people don't behave as they ought... While we made not have done things to result in the specific consequences of broken bodies, we are in and contributors to this fallen planet.

"It is the MOST merciful and good thing He can do to take the inevitable suffering that comes part and parcel to a fallen world and redeem it to make it purposeful. The pain is His chisel and fire as he chips and burns away our rough edges. So while this kind of suffering may not spread the gospel, it does aid in our own sanctification, which in turn fits us better for Heaven and for His work here on earth. That is the only possible conclusion I can arrive at that. Any other conclusion left me in utter despair. "

As I shared in a previous blog entry, I have definitely seen some spiritual fruit in my life as a result of HG - things like humility (much more needed, however!), compassion, spiritual exploration of my faith and vastly depleted reservoirs of personal pride. But I would never choose to go through it again to have yet more spiritual fruit borne into my life!! I guess that's why we're never given the choice.

(3) How can I make peace with past suffering?

If the above two questions can be answered to the satisfaction of my heart, then this question is automatically answered. If God is truly Good and God is truly Sovereign, then I can trust that my suffering was at the hand of a loving Father who did all things for my good and for eternal glory.

(4) How can I make peace with possible future suffering?

HOWEVER, even making peace with the past does not make peace with the future. Let's visualize this conversation:

Interviewer, to a mother: "So, I hear that you lost your child in a horrible accident a few years back. How are you feeling about that?
Mother: "Well, after much prayer and suffering I have come to terms with it and trust God that it was all for the best" (etc. etc. etc.)
Interviewer: "Oh, then I guess you won't mind at all then if another couple of your kids are killed the same way?"

Of course not!! Past suffering does not make one willing to go through the same thing, and if one does have to repeat suffering, does not keep the same questions from being asked.

A humorous example: After going through childbirth, I thought that I would never mind any pain ever again!! But I still whine just as much over a splinter or a stubbed toe - past pain has not inured me to present/future pain.

Thinking about the future makes the first two questions (Is God loving/sovereign) rear their ugly heads again, just when I think that I have beaten them into submission. It is much harder to come to terms with the past when one knows that the same suffering (or more) is present yet in the future. That is the eternal problem.

(Hyperemesis is most likely in my future, being that we would like another child (although I have a slight chance of avoiding HG). Even if it isn't, however, there are infinite sources of suffering, and I know that I am destined for at least some of them! So these questions are always applicable.)

In a lot of ways, this question (how to deal with the thought of future suffering) is what keeps the first three questions alive for me. I have often felt the lazy impulse to just "let it slide" and move on - kind of like when two friends or spouses have a fight and can't come to an agreement, so they eventually just agree to "forget it and move on" - no resolution, just an agreement to let bygones be bygones. I have wanted to do the same thing, rather than deal head-on with spiritual questions raised by HG - however, the threat of HG in the future as well as the past makes this pretty much impossible.

I am going to print another passage from J., answering the above question:

"Dear one, this is so hard to answer! I wish I knew what to say. I think this is where our faith must override our hearts and we must will ourselves in spite of our fears. No logic or feeling will compel you to take such a risk. As the Old Testament so frequently says "Remember the Lord God..." Remember His gifts of grace, mercy, kindness and generosity that He has given you so freely on other occasions. Remember those ways in which He has demonstrated and left you with no question that He is good. Remember the suffering of our Lord Christ and His pleas for the cup to pass. God has redeemed even that darkness with His goodness.

"Remembering the Lord's goodness at a time you knew it MUST be true, attempt to trust again, believing that God will be faithful again. He is a loving surgeon. Any pain is for your benefit. If He left the illness of sin in our souls and did not work to carve it out because the carving was too painful, He would not at all be loving for we would soon perish from our terminal disease. HG may not be the direct result of any sin you have committed, and IF (infertility) is not the direct result of any sin I have committed. But both, for whatever reason, have been deemed by God to be necessary for His greater purpose of glorifying Himself through us. It's hard and it's painful but believing HE is Good, I must therefore also then believe that His work in me must be good, too, even when I can't see it. If I believe Him to be good, there can be no fear of trusting Him. There may be fear of the process, but I am comforted by the knowledge of His goodness and the safety of His hand. But there were times I really had to will myself to believe all of that.

"My friend shares a story she learned from her dorm father at a missionary kid's school in Guinea. He lost his son in a tragic auto accident. Later down the road, having seen how God had further sanctified his life and the life of his family as a result, he said "If given the choice, I still might choose mediocrity if it meant that I could have my son back." In such cases as those, how merciful is God to NOT give us a choice for I fear I would make the same choice for mediocrity. He sees the big picture. He sees our "final product" and knows better than we what the steps are to get us there. His actions toward us are for our good out of His great love for us (for His glory is always good for us--we were created for its purpose).

"I don't know if any of this helps or not. I can say now, being a little farther along in my journey than you are that it HAS been good. It hasn't been easy, but I can appreciate its purpose, even if I still might choose a different road if offered the choice. When you cannot believe in the future, trust what you have already seen to be true and believe in the goodness and mercy that Has already been shown to you so generously. He WILL provide it again."

As a side note, I should say that I would always, always, ALWAYS choose mediocrity over spiritual growth due to suffering. Always. Thus, I guess it's good that God doesn't ask my opinion!

Anyhow, all the blogging and thinking and reading in the world won't make me come to terms with these questions. I can't force myself to feel truths that I just don't feel. Thus, I have simply been praying for peace, praying for understanding, and praying to truly feel and know the love and sovereignty of God in a new and real way.

I am going to end this entry with a passage from Jenna Schmitt's book on HG, "Body Mutiny":

"Last year, my own "inner monsoon" unfurled: I was pregnant and very sick. But before that event took place, I spent many years prior stuck miserably in a "perfectly sunny day." Mired in the numerous disappointments of life, I surrendered to despair and selt-loathing. Then the pregnancy blew in and swept away all damaging preconceptions. In retrospect, one year later, I understand exactly why I needed the arrival of such a momentous storm.

"I lost control last year. Control is something I will never truly have over the most profound circumstances. Whether you want to call it a cosmic "master plan," or the Divine, the greatest eruptions in life force us to live outside of selfish desire. After the pregnancy, I learned that I can never take the risk of having any more children.... There is sadness in this fact, but I am just starting to uncover many marvelous gifts i have since gained.

"Today, I am free from old insecurities and live a new life. Now, amazing blessings take place. There are so many unparalleled joys! I delight at my son, a miracle of science and religion, as my husband says. I revel in our steadfast marriage, made radiant by adversity. I marvel at the new and precious friendships we enjoy. I wonder at the advances my case still brings to the medical community...

.... In the end, it is truly the girt of 'delayed joy' that brings the sweetest reward."

(Jenna Schmidt, "Body Mutiny," pgs. 149-150)

And that's about it for now! More later, I'm sure.

1 comment:

  1. I can't force myself to feel truths that I just don't feel.

    I know this well! I hope that my writings didn't feel like "pat" answers to you! I had to resign myself to just dismissing my feelings at times. I have an almost disdain for feelings. They're irrational and unpredictable. I know God created them, but He is also logic. So when I knew the feelings were rebellious, I had to willfully ignore them. I had to choose to mentally ascend to a belief I knew in my head to be true and logical, even if I couldn't make my heart "feel it." Your heart will obey, in time. I'm sure of it. In the mean time, rest in what you can "control" and choose...your thoughts and your beliefs. God knows our feelings too and He is bigger than them.


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