“There is no heartbeat,” my obstetrician said gravely as he hovered the ultrasound wand over my stomach, searching for a sign of life. He looked at me, his eyes compassionate. “I’m sorry, Rachel.”
Nine weeks pregnant with our first child, I stared at the screen in disbelief and dread. Just two weeks ago there had been movement and a heartbeat on that screen. The doctor had declared that everything was perfect. Now there was only silence. I was having a miscarriage alone in a foreign country.
A few months before, my husband and I had moved to Budapest, Hungary to serve with an international faith-based organization. We were so excited when we’d learned we were pregnant. All was going smoothly until suddenly… it wasn’t.
The doctor told me that I was starting to miscarry and needed to go immediately to the hospital to have a medical procedure. Back at our apartment, I video called my husband who was in Czech Republic visiting a team there, many hours away by train.
I sobbed out the news to him, watching his face fall over the screen. He told me he would take the first train he could, but he would not reach Budapest until the next day. Numbly I packed an overnight bag and took a taxi to the hospital. I’d never been admitted to a hospital before, and the thought of undergoing a surgery in a foreign country without my husband by my side was scary.
Alone in the tiny hospital room bathroom, wearing a thin cotton gown and waiting for someone to come take me to the operating room, I stared in the mirror, tears streaming down my cheeks. This was not how my pregnancy was supposed to go. It felt terrible and unexpected, like a wrong turn in a story I thought I knew the ending to.
I stared in the mirror, alone and scared, and that is when I first felt it. The unmistakable comforting presence of the Lord beside me in that cramped, cold bathroom. It felt like a warm, arm wrapping around my shoulders. I KNEW beyond any doubt that God was with me, that I was not alone. Surprised, I stood there, blanketed in a sense of peace and comfort.
It did not eliminate the sorrow and grief. I was still losing my baby. I was still waiting for surgery in a foreign place. But I knew I was not alone.
“So this is what they mean by ‘peace that passes understanding’,” I murmured in sudden understanding. All my life I’d heard the phrase, but I’d never felt anything like it. God was WITH me in that cold, little bathroom. He was with me as they wheeled me into the operating theater. And He was with me as I left the hospital the next morning with a hurting heart and an empty womb.
What followed were weeks of grieving and coping and coming to terms with our loss. There were a lot of tears as we slowly accepted the reality that the future we’d begun planning with this baby would not be the story of our family after all. A few months after the miscarriage, I was praying one morning and asked, “Lord, what do you want me to learn from the loss of our baby?”
And clear as a bell, in the quiet space in my heart, I felt these words from the Lord: “I am teaching you not to fear.”
I was surprised. It wasn’t what I thought I’d hear. I turned that phrase over and over in my mind. “I am teaching you not to fear.” What did it mean? Slowly, over the next few days and weeks, as I pondered the phrase, I gradually came to see and understand an important truth.
For years I had been living with a false theology of suffering. Somehow I had fallen into the trap of believing that if I tried really hard to follow Jesus, if I did everything right, that I would be protected from any bad things happening in my life. In the aftermath of my miscarriage, I saw how wrong this belief was.
As followers of Jesus, we are not promised a rosy, problem-free existence. We live in a world riddled with pain, disease, hardship, and death. Most of us will experience loss and grief multiple times in our lives. It will look different for each of us, but pain and loss will touch us at some point. Guaranteed. It’s the nature of being human in a broken world. Jesus himself said in John 16:33 that in this world we will have trouble.
As followers of Jesus, we are not promised a rosy, problem-free existence.
Jesus never promised us that if we follow God we will be immune from all the hard stuff. He never said that if we really try to do everything right, He will make sure we never feel grief or loss or pain. Instead He said something very different, something that rang so true for me that night in the hospital bathroom. Jesus promised that, in the midst of the hard stuff, HE WILL BE WITH US.
The Scripture says “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). And in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the Apostle Paul describes God as “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” In the mess and the tears and the grief and the loss, Jesus is there with us. He doesn’t take it away. He sits in it with us, His arm around our shoulders.
That is the beauty of being a follower of Jesus. Not that we avoid the hard things in life, but that in the midst of those hard things, we are not alone. We are held. We are loved. We are comforted. God is with us.
The true and beautiful lesson I learned through the loss of our first child is this: the hard times in life will come. Sooner or later they will come for all of us. Yet we don’t need to live in fear, trying our hardest to avoid any hint of trouble. Instead we can face whatever the future holds, knowing that when those hard things come, Jesus will be there with His arm around our shoulders, comforting, giving peace, and helping lead us through each step of the way.