Meaning And Pain, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post about Meaning and Pain. Part 1 can be found here.

So I didn’t leave that last post wrapped tightly in a bow, and to be honest I don’t really know if this one will be either even as I write it. It is my firm conviction that we don’t leave enough space for things like silence, pain or unanswered questions.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not
afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same
fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the
yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or
concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be
about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me
tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life…

CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

It’s my observation that we, perhaps both intentionally and unintentionally, tend to speed right past suffering. We often say things like “This reminds me of the time when I also went through…” or “Everything happens for a reason.” This may all be well and true, but it seems to me to serve often as a way to say “Don’t let this get to you. This is bad, but it happens to everyone, and either way it’ll all work out in the end. You’ll see. Now can we stop talking about this?

And this brings me back to the meaning question. It seems to me that there’s an inseparable link between meaning and suffering.

In my view, one of the areas of silence we should more often allow ourselves, and others, to sit in a little more is the experience of pain and suffering, and the fact that those things are real, and omnipresent, and meaningful. I mean by “silence” the solemn contemplation of this reality: we are all in pain. We all experience that fear-like-grief that accompanies this life. The meaning and suffering dimensions are, as Peterson suggested, completely intertwined. We cannot deny that the suffering is meaningful, and if it’s meaningful it needs to be meaningfully engaged.

So what to do, if we can’t race past it toward a distraction? If we can’t ignore it? We all have questions in times like these. We want to know the “why”. We want to demand an answer, or find who (perhaps even God Himself) is to be blamed for this catastrophe. What do you do when you experience that kind of pain?

I’ll apply these questions next to myself. I am in pain. I miss the child I never knew. This being I love and would gladly give my life for, even though he or she was scant the size of a blueberry. It is impossible for me to think this pain isn’t meaningful. And I don’t want to ignore it. If the world should be Shalom, if children should live to grow up before their parents eyes, and it’s not, we SHOULD be suffering. Because that isn’t the world we live in. And it means something.

Continued in Part 3, final thoughts.

Meaning and Pain, Part 1

This post will be personal, in a way perhaps that many blog posts I write won’t be. It’s also going to be a little raw, and less structured than I normally write. It’s more like a blog post crossed with a diary. Forgive me. It is hard to write about a painful subject when you’re actively going through it.

I want to tell you a story about a recent experience, the pain it has caused me and my wife, and why I think we ought to take life far more seriously, in all its suffering, joy, mirth, and despair, than we do.

“Is there meaning in life? That’s a stupid question… that’s not a question you ever ask yourself if you’re in pain. Because if you’re in pain you know that life has a meaning. And it’s the pain. And you can’t argue yourself out of that. And so when we’re asking about whether life has meaning, that’s not what we mean. What we mean is “in the face of life’s pain and suffering, does life have any POSITIVE meaning”

Jordan Peterson (emphasis mine)

My wife and I were married 10 years ago, roughly, and we both wanted children. It was baked into the cake, us being Card Carrying Christians and all. We wanted a family. But she had studies to attend to, and so for practical reasons we put off having kids for a while. To be honest this wasn’t such a big deal to me. I’ve never been much of a “kid person”. Or, in fact, a “person person”. I wanted a family, but there was no urgency, really, in my mind. It could wait.

In her final year before she graduated (#1 in her class at the University of Washington, btw, she’s soooper smart), we started trying to have our first kid. It was time, and we knew we wanted multiple. Basically as soon as we started trying, we were pregnant with our first, little Liam. My life would never be the same. Maybe I wasn’t a kid person, but I was a MY kid person.

Soon thereafter, we had a second child. This one took longer. Months went by. We were starting to wonder if something was wrong: Do we need fertility treatment? This was hard. What’s different this time? Does God want this for us? What is He trying to teach us? We didn’t expereience, really, a sense of loss, just one of delay. Why is God putting us through this?

But ultimately without treatment, and not really that long of a time (9 months of trying), we received yet another gift: little Teddy.

Words can’t express how much joy these two little boys give us. I never thought I’d want more than 2 kids until I had them. Now I wanted 3 for sure. Maybe more.

At this point you might be suspecting that what is, so far, a happy story has a dark turn. And you’re right. This post does have the title “Pain” in it, and not for nothing. We started trying for kid number three. And once again, just like our first, we were pregnant pretty much immediately. Whew! Teddy’s delay with just an anomaly. Getting pregnant was easy. And so, a few months later, we went into our first doctor’s appointment. This was supposed to be the first time we’d see our little one. We were happily talking about whether we wanted another boy, or a girl? Is this going to be the last kid for us? Do we want a fourth?

We were chatting away about these things as the ultrasound began…

….something isn’t quite right…

…this baby definitely isn’t that far along…

And then we were told the pregnancy wasn’t viable. Our baby would never be born. Within seconds, we went from joy to… well… that hollow feeling you get when something horrible has just happened, and you’re struggling to believe what you just heard.

It’s hard to describe the emotions we felt, and I’m not one to be good at such a description even if it were easy. But a soul, our child, was both here and not here. We’d not see his or her face. No hugs or bedtime stories. Just a canceled due date, and a procedure in a cold hospital room the next week to finish off what we were so eagerly anticipating.

Continued in Part 2