Most of us get goosebumps when we think about “love at first sight.” We get excited at the very thought of it. For those of us who are married, we might think of our own story as reflecting some level of love at first sight. For those who are single, you have probably imagined what it would be like if it really happened to you. Scenes like this one from West Side Story give us that classic “Awwwww………I need tissues” kind of moment. Many women (and even some men) could watch the scene over and over again without ever getting bored. And while I don’t doubt that first meetings like Tony and Maria ever happen, I would say that such moments are pretty rare! But it definitely makes for swooning female crushes, and great box office sales. We love to be entertained. We love to see man and woman “fall in love.”
Everything changes when we’re at the movies. We are so easily fascinated. So easily mesmerized. Certain moments seem timeless to us. They lift us up, and make us feel good. We allow the movie industry to create some of the craziest plot lines, as long as the story makes us feel good. We’ll give any story the benefit of the doubt when we’re with our family, enjoying our overly buttered and overly priced popcorn. Even when the story is nothing more than………yes, you guessed it………fiction. And especially when it’s a love story.
But do we give the same allowance to people who are living real stories that don’t come with makeup, perfect lighting, and a lucrative script?
As I continue through this series on how to minister to parents of stillborn babies, we enter into the ever popular, but often misunderstood, topic of love. To help you keep up with my train of thought, I recommend that you read through the introduction and part 1. For this post, I’ve decided to combine points #2 and #4. They go hand in hand with one another, and it makes sense to condense them into one overall point.
Parents of stillborn babies want you to know…………
#2 We want you to know that we love our babies as much as any other parent loves their own children.
#4 Just because we had only a very short time to bond with our baby (our lifeless baby), this does not make the grieving process easier. In some ways, it makes things harder.
The Wisdom of Moving Slowly
Because of our infatuation with “love at first sight”, Hollywood has always heavily marketed the far-fetched romance movie. But in the real world, most people believe the opposite of what these movies typically reveal to us. Most believe that you cannot simply love someone that quickly. And for good reason. It takes time to get to know someone, and consequently, to properly love and receive love from them. It is usually unwise, and in some cases unsafe, to give your heart to someone you just saw for the first time. When it comes to dating and marriage, we obviously need to be wise. We should try not to become emotionally attached so quickly. In fact, it may be more loving to the other person to slow things down. You don’t want to give them any wrong impression. And you certainly don’t want to hurt them, or yourself for that matter.
Context Is Everything
The problem is when we take a general principle (i.e. like dating) and make it binding on every type of life experience. Romantic love works much differently than parental affection. If we confuse the two, it can be disheartening and very frustrating to parents of stillborn babies. Why? Because then we would be insensitive to the fact that parents love their babies inherently. We don’t need to ‘get to know’ them for a specific period of time in order to have deep affection for them. If you make this assumption about parents who either miscarry, or have a stillborn baby, you squelch the love they have for their babies. Ironically, such thinking would be anything but loving to these hurting moms and dads.
Generally speaking, love does require a lot of time spent with another person. Talking to, and listening to, that person repeatedly, and seeking to do them good whenever possible. Without sufficient time and conversation, learning about someone’s deepest pain, it is hard to have compassion for and meet their needs. Without sacrificing for another, you haven’t really loved them. Without seeking their interest over your own, you haven’t really loved them. This can apply to marriage, friendships, parenting, and church life. But is this principle always true? Can you still have a heartfelt affection for someone, with a desire to help them if you could, even if you never have the chance to put your affection into action?
Let me go further here…….
Does this mean that we cannot love someone unless we have spent months and years of quality time with them? Should we only sacrifice ourselves for someone we know very well, and have spoken to many times? Does heartfelt affection, which would sacrifice anything for the well-being of another, require you to have a specific kind of relationship with that person? What if we never met that person before? Could we still love them? What if our only relationship with them was while they were still alive inside the womb, but not after they were born? Does this change the level of love we have for that person, simply because our time together was cut short? Do we need to see them alive in order to love them?
How Much Time Does Love Require?
Beckie Lindsey has written a tremendous post on how God wants us to love others. Here is one of my favorite quotes:
I asked God how He wants me to represent love. His answer: The way my Son loves is the way you are to love.
That says it all, doesn’t it? Always seeking the well-being of others, even to His own detriment. That is Jesus. And of course, this kind of love took time……and exhaustion……..and effort……….and agony………and the shedding of His own precious blood. And we are called to model, as best we can by the grace of God, this kind of love.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” ~ Jesus Christ (John 13:34)
When Jesus walked this earth, notice how he always loved and had compassion on others. And in many cases, these were others that He just met. He didn’t require a ‘getting to know you’ period as a requirement to love them. Christ displayed both heartfelt compassion and sacrificial deeds for others. Time was obviously required to perform the good deeds, but the compassion was there from the start. Christ felt genuine affection for these people immediately. Compassion emanates from Jesus naturally.
Parents naturally have compassion for their babies. This is a God-given affection. It is automatic, and nothing can stand in its way. And there is no limit to how much you would do for them if given the chance. The only thing that separates parents who have lost stillborn babies to other parents is that they lacked the opportunity to care for their babies outside the womb. That opportunity died with the baby. That is the difference. The affection is there, and it is not lacking. My baby Ariana didn’t have to do anything to make me have affection for her. She didn’t have to do anything for me to want her to live again. She didn’t have to earn my love. And no one had to teach me how to grieve for her. It came naturally, because the affection for her was there from the start. Parents of stillborn babies do not lack the affection that other parents have for their babies. And if they could, if they had the opportunity, they would do a million good deeds for them………..just to hear one single cry, or see one beautiful smile.
The Good Samaritan
In the article “Love Trumps Everything” (referenced above), Beckie then goes on to talk about a story we are very familiar with. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. She emphasizes how Christ teaches us that everyone we come in contact with is a neighbor to us. There are no escape clauses in Scripture. We are to love everyone sacrificially, even our enemies.
I believe the Good Samaritan parable can also teach us something about our topic of stillborn babies. It is not an application that the author of Scripture intended, but there is an argument from the lesser to greater that helps us here. Before I make the point, here is the story as spoken by Jesus Christ:
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
As most of you know, it is a historical fact that Jews and Samaritans hated one another. The fact that this man- this Samaritan man- would risk life and limb for a Jew was unheard of. This is precisely why Jesus uses him as our example, teaching us to love our enemies. Those whom we least feel like helping, we are commanded to help. That is real, self-sacrificing love. That kind of love is unnatural to us. It is the kind of love that only the Holy Spirit can produce.
What the Parable Can Teach Us
So how does this parable relate to parents of stillborn babies? Think of it this way. The Samaritan had never met the man who was attacked by robbers. Not only had he never met him, but the man was a Jew. A man whom the Samaritan was taught from his earliest days to hate, and avoid at all cost. And yet, even knowing both of these things, the Samaritan had compassion on and loved the man. So here’s the point.………..If a Samaritan has compassion on a man he was taught to hate…… If a Samaritan places his own life in danger to help such a man………. If he provides for and cares for him when a Levite and Priest would not………And if he goes out of his way to help a man he doesn’t feel like helping………..How much more then does a parent of a stillborn feel affection for their own baby? How much more do we wish to see our baby come back alive? How much more do we grieve over their bruised bodies? For the Samaritan, having affection for a Jew was totally unnatural to him- even repugnant. But for the parent of a stillborn baby, all of these loving affections come naturally.
The Samaritan did not have to spend a lot of time with the beaten and bloodied man in order to feel compassion for him. Time spent was not a requirement for him to have love for the Jew. And if that’s the case, then neither would time be required for a mother and father to love their own precious, biological, lifeless, fearfully and wonderfully made baby boy or girl.
Why Give More Slack to Hollywood?
Some of us are not as lenient with people we know as we are with Hollywood. In the scene from West Side Story, we give them kudos when a man goes gaga over a cute girl on a dance floor. I realize that this example relates to a romantic ‘high’ between a man and a woman, and not a compassionate type of love. That type of reaction is mostly based on physical attraction. But that makes my point even more. Many believe that losing a stillborn baby does not bring the same kind of emotion as other life situations can bring. Think about this for a moment. If you accept that people can shed tears over a romantic movie scene, how much more should you empathize with parents who are painfully grieving?
There is nothing wrong or sinful about starry-eyed men seeing a cute girl, and feeling like his whole world is just beginning. At the same time, parents of stillborn babies want you to know something: We want you to accept that we once looked into the beautiful eyes of a dead baby boy or girl, and our whole world felt like it ended. All we ask is that the same allowance you give to Hollywood to experience deep emotions, you also give to us. We need your tears as well. And we need your compassionate words and prayers to deal with our pain. When you make assumptions about how a family should feel in their grief, you do them a great disservice.
We love our babies. Always have, always will. Our longing for them did not die with them, regardless of how little time we had with them. If the amount of time spent with someone were the only factor in having affection, then we will cut short the love others need from us. And in the process, we will grieve the Spirit of God. Don’t allow yourself to believe the lie that a lack of time equals a lack of affection. How many hours, days, or months did this girl spend with her mother before their meeting? None. Now go back and watch the last couple minutes of the clip. Really, I mean watch it. Now…….. that’s what a reunion might look like for a parent and their stillborn baby!
The Hypocritical Husband
We must look at each situation carefully, in its own context. For example, if a husband willfully chooses not to spend time with his wife, he is being neglectful and unloving. If he is constantly choosing his friends, hobbies, and even other family members over his wife, he has not loved her. If he neglects her needs and never sacrifices his own comfort for her sake, he has not loved her. And any “affection” he shows for her is going to be seen as a sham. She will sniff out his motives like a highly trained K-9. For him to behave in such a way brings shame upon himself and anyone who condones such behavior.
On the other hand, to make time the deciding factor when it comes to loving someone does a great deal of damage. If we believe that time is an absolutely necessary component of love, then we have judged wrongly. Why? Because then we assume that love is determined by a specific set of circumstances. In other words, something outside of us as opposed to something inside of us. Look again at the husband in the above paragraph. Time did not produce genuine affection for his wife. And it certainly didn’t bring forth a pattern of good deeds. Even the good things he did were ultimately self-serving. Time didn’t make him get better. Only God can do that. Do not attribute to time something that only the Creator of time can do. Apart from the grace of God, such a man may continue to get worse over time. Time was no helper to him.
Looking to God for Help
The kind of thinking that places time limits on love distorts the true meaning of love. It places barriers in front of it. Love is much more diverse. We can’t pigeonhole it. To do so would be an insult to Jesus Christ our Savior, who is the full embodiment of love. The Bible shows Him loving people He knew well. And it also shows Him loving people He had only known for seconds. Parents of stillborn babies know all too well that love cannot be based solely on any one person’s experience. Let’s learn about love from God, not Hollywood.
The fact that your baby dies before leaving the mother’s womb, or while on the way out, is no consolation. The fact that you did not hear your baby cry, or coo, does not cushion the blow. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you love your baby any less. It means you are a grieving parent, who is hurting deeper than most people probably know. But I do know that God is the One you can always turn to. He knows how much you are hurting. And He knows how much you love your baby, even when others have no clue. If you are hurting, go to Him and pray that He would bring you comfort in all of your messy pain. And in all of your frustration at the lack of understanding you receive. The One who forgives sins is able and willing to do it.
A Many Splendored Thing
Hollywood once got close to a good definition of love. They said that Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing. The problem is that the many splendors of “Hollywood love” usually involve one night stands, getting drunk, and girls wearing flirty clothing. Perhaps if Hollywood showed an exhausted mother lying on a delivery room bed wearing a hospital gown as much as they showed a villainess wearing spandex, real love would be seen. Perhaps if they showed more bruised and lifeless baby faces with blood red lips in the arms of a caring nurse, real love would be seen. Perhaps if they let you hear the sounds of a mother and father wailing over the loss of their baby, whom they can only hold just one time, real love would be seen. Now this would be one messy, but beautiful, movie.
But of course, not many people would pay to go see it, would they? Grieving parents, churches helping suffering people, baby funerals, and really messy lives. Nope. Not much there to make a buck off of. No swooning females. No West Side Story moments. No box office records. And no Academy Awards. Real love pleases God, but it isn’t always popular.
Time doesn’t cause love to come into the picture. It is no guarantee that love already exists in a given situation, or that it will exist in the future. Time is simply the frame in which the picture of love can be clearly displayed. And in some instances, that frame gives the picture of love a very beautiful holder. Jesus Christ painted the most beautiful picture of love the world has ever seen. We can see the painting written in the words of Holy Scripture. The frame of His love was seen in every one of His words and actions throughout His 33 year life. And ultimately, His time came to an end. The frame wrapped completely around the picture, as it draped over and around a wooden cross for about 6 hours on that Day of days. Those 6 hours are not what made Jesus love us while hanging on the cross. He loved us because of who He is.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
If time is put to good use, then the frame can only make the picture more beautiful. But for parents of stillborn babies, there wasn’t much time to be had with our baby. Our frame was taken away. And we can never get it back. Unfortunately, time isn’t for sale. You can’t buy that kind of frame at your local store. But God holds the frame of eternity in His hands. And one day, He will make all things new in a Kingdom that cannot be framed with a finite concept of time. It is a Kingdom that lasts forever! To all you parents who have lost babies, there is hope in our Redeemer. Remember, our time here on this earth is temporal. That frame will eventually break apart and will not hold the picture. Time will give way to eternity. However, the picture of love will last forever. How do I know? It is the reason the Apostle Paul calls it the greatest thing. It lasts even beyond faith and hope. It goes on and on and on, forever with our Lord.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. No one ever said anything about the frame.
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