“It’s taken a long time for my baby brother to come into our family,” my son said.
I put my fork down and paused. Three weeks ago we got the phone call we’ve been waiting for; a birth mother chose us to become the parents of her child. We’ve talked about names, about what it will look like when the baby comes, about how things will be different, about how Luke will help. Excitement and a joy reverberate through these table conversations.
There was no anger, no frustration, no angst in the simple sentence. It wasn’t even a question – which is surprising considering the curiosity Luke normally exhibits. No, this was simply a matter of fact announcement: it has taken a long time for this hoped-for-child to be more than a prayer. But it poked something in me, shifted something to the left just enough that I felt frustration bubble up to the surface.
It has taken a long time.
I suppose I should be overwhelmed with gratitude because our prayers have been answered. There’s an unspoken pressure to dance, smile, and thank God for his faithfulness. That’s what good Christians do, isn’t it? We pray our angsty prayers longing for God to meet us in our pain, to bring resolution to the conflict of our story, to miraculously swoop in and light up the darkness. And after our prayers have been answered the fear and frustration and anger that fueled our fist-shaking shouts to the Almighty are burned away like an early morning fog against the noonday sun. At least that’s how the story is supposed to go, isn’t it?
Our family’s prayers have been answered. In more ways than one, God has provided for this adoption, and we are so very grateful. My heart rejoices, but because the growth of our family took way longer than I think it should have a slow-burning anger settled in the space between me and God. For five years we have longed for this. For five years my wife and I have prayed for our family to grow. We hoped and dreamed of another child entering our house. Our son, who is relationally driven, has asked question after question about when his baby brother or sister would come home. And with every question my heart broke again and agin. We suffered infertility, an ectopic pregnancy, and waiting. Oh yes, waiting is its own kind of suffering. A quiet helplessness as you sit on your hopes wondering if they are will left to the realm of pleasant daydreams. Five years of wondering if the God who we call Father, the God who loves families, who encourages us to care for children is listening.
I have cried tears of joy in the last three weeks. I have prayed my prayers of thanksgiving. But I’m also heated and resentful. My heart is rejoicing, but it’s also harboring sadness. Admittedly I’m a little scared recognizing the messiness of my heart.
Grief and celebration co-exist in the human heart. Both sadness and joy are present in the experience of a world that is both good and not-as-it-should-be. Sure, I could wrap myself up in the joy of our adoption, but to do so would be to ignore the anger that I feel. It would be to ignore a part of me that is as real as my excitement. Pretending those prayers don’t need to be voiced is a lie straight out of the pit of hell and reinforced by a culture uncomfortable with pain. Religion that forces a fabricated joy is not a religion, but a system designed to make us less human demanding a painted Joker smile that covers a seething anger.
No, I will not buy the lie. I will shout my anger to the one who inspired a book comfortable with laments. I will beat my breast. Perhaps uncouth, this is honest and I won’t brush it under the rug of good decorum. I will not let the residue of my laments settle into my heart like silt, slowing the ability to feel and clogging my relationship to God.
Some decry this age of authenticity as little more than self-absorbed pursuits of finding a god who accepts me “just as I am.” Some see posts like these as little more than a narcissistic indulgence by a self-centered generation. Maybe so, but I don’t think so. We can’t tell people to bring their sin into the light then in the next breath tell them to keep their emotions hidden. We can’t tell people who Jesus wants their whole life and then tell them not to share all of their feelings. We can’t preach about mourning with those who mourn if we only allow people rejoice.
Healing won’t come if I won’t admit I’m sick.
What I know is that God doesn’t wait for us to get out of the pit, doesn’t demand that we sanitize ourselves before we approach him, doesn’t require we get right. God got in the mess with us, putting on the whole human experience through the incarnation. It brings me comfort to know that David, a man whose emotions swung back and forth in a single psalm, was a man after God’s own heart. So I’ll bring all of who I am – the good and the bad, the angry and the thankful – to all of who I know of God.
I looked at Luke. “It has taken a long time. It’s been a really hard wait,” I said.
Joy and grief. Thankfulness and anger. They co-exist, mix and mingle as they wait for redemption. This is what it means to be human.