Extending grace both ways

A huge chasm often exists in the church. On one side of the chasm we have women who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, or both. On the other side we have women who have not experienced these trials. This chasm doesn’t need to exist, and in fact, God doesn’t want it to exist at all. The problem is, many women don’t know this chasm exists. Resolving this problem can seem overwhelming and even impossible, but it we take a closer look, something beautiful is at work.

The gap is closing up.

Ever so carefully, the hole is getting filled in, and on two different sides, bridges are being built, bridges that are meant to meet in the middle and form one big road.

I have fallen for the lie that miscarriage and infertility made me an outcast in my church family. When I have shared how that feels, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of women who also feel this way. It felt good to find out I wasn’t alone. But realizing this led to a big problem— division in the church. An “us vs. them” mentality doesn’t promote unity, and it also doesn’t resolve the actual issues. What can we do?

Acknowledge that the problem exists

The difficulty with this division among women in the church is that many of us don’t know that it’s a problem. At the same time, though, ignorance is far easier to resolve than intentional hurt. About 1 in 8 couples in America face primary or secondary infertility. Around 10-15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (loss before 20 weeks gestation). These numbers are people, and our churches are made up of these people experiencing infertility and loss. I know this to be true because I am one of them, and God has slowly opened the doors for me to know other women healing from the effects of infertility and miscarriage or currently battling these trials.

Look for hearts to comfort

Churches aren’t full of perfect people. Churches are full of sinners who are struggling with the effects of the fall, including suffering. Everyone is facing some kind of struggle, whether big or small. On the flip side, it is common for us to neglect caring for others when we are suffering. No one is exempt from the charge to care for one another (Gal 6:2). Prayer is a great conduit for bringing people together.  Ask God to put someone in your path, and when he does, ask her how you can pray for her. If someone is unable to give a lot of specifics, extend grace to her. God’s grace is never short, but our grace to others often is.

Ask the right questions

For one solid year I had people asking me every week if we were going to have a second child. There were jokes, questions, insinuations, and remarks. Most were genuine and innocent, and others had unknown motives. I wanted to hide from people while I faced infertility. I didn’t know how to walk into church while healing from a miscarriage. Sometimes, I sinfully stayed home from church and events. The temptations I faced each Sunday overwhelmed my unstable emotions. My husband noticed this thankfully, and we learned to face Sundays with prayer. I had to grow in extending grace to friends who did not understand. I’m learning that being asked questions isn’t sinful, but getting angry and bitter is. This happens in churches all over, too. Each time I have shared about the difficulty of going to church when you are struggling through infertility, women have contacted me over and over telling me of how difficult it is for them, too. We need to ask each other the right questions, questions that aren’t loaded with possible pain, including ones about having children. While it is good and right to ask simple questions about life, too often we neglect spiritual needs when we take our limited time to focus solely on externals. 

Build genuine relationships

We need to build relationships filled with openness and love, and these types of relationships usually only happen when we are intentional. Oftentimes this even means getting to know each other’s sinful tendencies! Ten minutes talking before Sunday worship time doesn’t cut it. When we take the time to invest in others, we open up opportunities to encourage, rebuke, comfort, and learn how to give grace. This helps form paths for understanding each other despite differences. The beauty of the church is the diversity and unity of its members. From an outsider’s perspective, our churches should be full of strife, but because we all find our identity in Christ, we are a family of brothers and sisters. We have every opportunity to show how God’s love changes relationships.

Give hope

Sadly, I have to admit that many of the people I confided in did not know how to offer me hope in my suffering. But God used my situation to show me what hope truly is. I learned from his word that true hope does not disappoint (Rom 5:5). We are guaranteed hope in Christ. This doesn’t mean we will receive whatever we want. Rather, we know that Christ has begun a good work in us and will complete it when Christ returns (Phil 1:6). We are made in the image of God, bearing his likeness. When we turn to him in repentance and trust in him, we ”put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24). We groan as we wait for completion, knowing that we are still afflicted in our temporary home (2 Cor 5:4). Our hope is in heaven with Christ, where there will be no pain, tears, or suffering (Rev 21:3-4). When we share our suffering with each other, we must comfort each other with the hope of eternity with Christ, even if we have never faced certain trials that our friends are experiencing. Pray that the love and hope of Christ will comfort them in their distress. Those who pointed me to Christ glorified God and left me encouraged to keep fighting for joy. Hope bloomed in that dark period of time.

So, we can each carry a bit of that hope to fill in that chasm of despair. We take on the burdens of each other to complete the bridge. And when we feel the sting of sin’s effect on bearing children, we swing a hammer hard onto each stubborn nail of sin. There is hope. That chasm will be gone. We look up and see God orchestrating it all. He is going to make all things new, and in the meantime he is at work in all of us, growing us in love and Christ-likeness and giving us the ability to extend grace to each other.

God is closing up the gap.

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