A couple weeks ago Eldon and I were listening to Les Misérables (and voting on our favorite renditions). I was struck, as always, listening to I Dreamed a Dream, especially in light of our baby’s death. The most powerful part for me is when Fantine says how she dreamed her life would be different and that there are dreams that cannot be.
I started reflecting about life and how we have various dreams for ourselves. For me, it was always that I would get married and have kids and be happy. True, a lot of that has happened, but the huge trial of having our baby boy unexpectedly die was not in the plan. When I was a teenager I thought that life was difficult when I had a stressful test or when I felt lonely. Sometimes we talk about trials and difficulties in the light that they will eventually end and that endurance is only required for a certain time. But some things are permanent and will always burden us. I certainly believe that our burdens can be lightened, but the death of a baby is a heavy sorrow. Every day I wish I had had the opportunity to know who this little person was.
Having been through this difficulty my eyes have been opened to the suffering of many others. Intellectually I could understand how difficult it might be to lose someone, but now I have empathy. I think about the individuals I know personally who dreamed their lives would be different too. Who dreamed they would get married, who dreamed they would be able to have children – or more children, who dreamed they would grow old together with their spouse, who dreamed their marriage would last.
In religion we talk about God’s will. Was it God’s will for Goodwin to die? Was it God’s will that my friend had to die from cancer? Was it God’s will that my friend couldn’t have more children even though it was a noble desire? Since Goodwin’s death, I have come to believe that God’s will has little to do with actual events. I believe that we live in a natural world where death, disease, and the choices of others affect us. Do I believe that Goodwin would have lived if he had been born early? Yes, I think it’s probable. Is there a natural reason why he died? Yes: my placenta stopped functioning properly, thus leading to low amniotic fluid and lack of nutrients. My point is this: I don’t believe that it was God’s will that Goodwin should die. I believe that God’s will is to depend on him during a trial such as this and to use the grace of God to have my heart softened. I think God’s will is quite universal – turn to Him in our struggles and He will comfort us and strengthen us. As we do this, we will become more like Him (which is also His will).
Another issue that has bothered me since this event is the idea of miracles. We talk about miracles and how whenever something good happens that we don’t expect, it’s a miracle. Someone miraculously survives a terrible car accident. Someone has a baby two months pre-mature and he survives without complications (admittedly this one was hard for me since we had just lost our baby). But what about all the millions of innocent individuals who aren’t saved from natural disasters, war, or other crimes? Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t have a feeling or prompting to warn me that something was wrong. To me, our common definition of miracles makes God seem like a respecter of persons (which is in opposition to the scriptures). I almost felt betrayed that God wouldn’t warn me about my baby when many people seem to get warnings to protect them from danger.
In light of this, I have come to believe that miracles also have little to do with actual events. I think about Jesus in the bible and how he healed the sick and afflicted. In one instance He forgives the man’s sins and then heals his body so he can walk. I believe the healing of the man’s body was a physical representation of the healing that happened inside of him. I believe that miracles are internal. The fact that I can be happy again after losing a baby is a miracle to me. Certainly, I don’t know exactly how God works. I have no idea if the events we call miracles are actually influenced by the power of God or if there are natural reasons why they happened. Whatever. But what I can know is how my heart changes.
My husband and I struggled with the role of God after Goodwin’s death for some of the reasons I’ve explained here already. What is He good for if He won’t help us with the things we want in life that are good? As we talked about it, I came to the conclusion that God is exactly who He says He is, our Father. As a father, He is there to comfort us and support us in our struggles. Maybe He intervenes, but by and large, I think he allows the natural world and the agency of others to control the events in our lives. I feel like His influence is very internal and spiritual, which then helps us deal with the external.
These ideas have also influenced how I understand prayer. Before Goodwin’s death, I prayed for what I wanted and needed, hoping that God would fulfill my desires. But maybe God answers our prayers differently than we suppose. Maybe we should pray for an ability to deal with the events around us, not necessarily for God to change those events. Otherwise, we may believe that if it doesn’t work out then God didn’t listen (or it wasn’t God will). If it does work out then it was a miracle. Like I’ve discussed here, I don’t know if those ideas are true. I believe that God does listen to us. I believe that God’s will is to turn to Him in our struggles for comfort. And I believe that miracles happen regardless of actual events; they happen in our hearts. If God affects our hearts, then maybe our prayers should focus more on aspects of our heart, so we can cope with the events around us.
Ultimately, I believe that God exists. I know that the comfort that comes from Him is real. Certainly I wish Goodwin had lived. But this is a dream that cannot be. I believe that we live in a natural world and events may occur in our lives that are out of of control. But despite the disappointment we feel, I believe that God our Father will be there to shoulder our burdens as any loving parent would.