The Dismal Path Leads Somewhere Too
Today’s Chicago Tribune has a story about a couple who had twins after undergoing invitro fertilization. The story describes their uncertainty about what to do with two other embryos; donate them to advance the technology, to help an infertile couple bear children or keep them for themselves.
The upshot is the couple had them implanted after realizing how much they enjoyed the now two year old twins. Everything is going along well; though one embryo of the two implanted sadly dissolved, the other divided so that now the couple will have twins again.
Much is made of the couples’ faith, and the impact the prayers of their church had on the turn of events. The mother is in the earliest stages of the pregnancy, but wanted to make the story public as soon as possible as a declaration of faith. What happened with the lost and found twin in the story does indeed seem to bear the stamp of something miraculous.
I think this is a nice story. I wish the couple well. Two aspects of an otherwise good story stick in my craw mightily, though I think this is likely the result of the reporting as opposed to the declarations of the mother’s happiness and faith:
- The woman used to believe that “when life was too good to be true, her happiness could come to a halt at any moment.”
- “(S)he credits the support of the couple's Methodist congregation for teaching her to accept the surprises that life has to offer, both good and bad.”
Right now I have friends going through a lot of things. Some went through trials and came through to the other side with everything hunky dory and are learning how to breathe again. Some have to wait for test results, new employment opportunities to arrive, or whole new drugs to be developed before they can reasonably expect to live much longer. A few grieve deeply for trials that loved ones are facing, and fear outcomes of results yet to be revealed.
Their days are challenging, sometimes filled with goodness and surprises that lead to much joy, but some days they are not happy at all. So as I read this reporter’s account of what the mother is revealing as her life lessons, there is a part of me thinking: Hmmmm, I am not so sure I would give up on the belief that our happiness could come to a halt at any moment. It happens all the time. If we wait, we can have happiness again, but the dark nights of the soul cannot be always be deferred, and certainly cannot be denied.
And no congregation, however loving and welcome in our lives, can teach us that lesson which Life itself reveals to us personally again and again: we have to accept what we can’t change. We really do. We have to pick up and move on with as much faith as we can muster, which means accepting the good and the bad.
Why am I so picky on these points in such a feel-good article? Because I have so long struggled with perspectives on disasters that befall myself or others. Does prayer keep some things going in the right direction? Is the right direction always what we think it should be? What is happy, what is real, etc? For every answer I think I have, I keep coming up with more questions. That’s why I am not a sage, and that’s why I get a little annoyed when a message about faith is expressed by someone who has, by this account at least, every reason to be happy. I have made some of my happiest declarations when everything was going my way. It isn’t hard to do.
What does inspire me? Brace yourself.
Mother Teresa’s feelings of dark emptiness, and her periods of abject faithlessness. David van Biema of Time Magazine first brought Mother Teresa’s letters to her spiritual advisor to widespread public view, which came to light initially during examinations the Catholic Church does in relation to candidates for the sainthood. As he reported, Teresa’s darkness descended first around the time she began her work in India. Except for a brief respite, it seemed to have intensified as she continued to grapple with her advisor over everything, including doubts surrounding the existence of a loving God. For a person of Mother Teresa’s stature, this surely constituted a grand traumatic event, if not a relentless series of them.
It is unclear to anyone if Mother Teresa died assured of the presence of the God she searched for; I hope it doesn’t keep her from attaining whatever might have been important to her, if sainthood per se ever was. David van Biema notes that “there are two responses to trauma. To hold onto it…and remain its captive, or without necessarily ‘conquering’ it, to gradually integrate it into the day-to-day.” Which is what Teresa did. She took her questioning, her pain, her doubts and faithlessness all into herself and pressed onward. That is the kind of example that inspires me these days - people who keep doing the work of the world that no one wants to do, that has to be done.
How tremendous the effort must have been for her to put one foot in the front of the other in a world so dark. To do what she did, in her hands-on way, struggling with faithlessness is what a miracle looks like to me. Her continuing to bear witness to the unspeakable pain of others’ lives surely reflected the spark of a divinity that even unbelievers may wish to experience now and again, sometime, somewhere. She may have lost her grip on faith and happiness, but she never lost her willingness to serve.
For someone like me, who can’t be shaken from her belief that happiness can and does sometimes come to a screeching halt at any given moment - and to whom life is still trying to teach the lesson of accepting bad things that cannot be altered by (at least my) human hands…it’s examples like Teresa that inspire me to keep slugging along the sometimes dismal path.