The Aftermath of Loss: The Battle Between Joy and Fear

Matt and I had wanted another baby since our daughter’s first birthday. We waited patiently for God’s all-wise timing to answer that request. For our 5-year anniversary in May of 2018, Matt and I planned a little getaway for just the two of us. He had just graduated from seminary and was soon to be voted on as lead pastor of our church. May was an eventful and surprising month for us, and thus a good time to step away. I kept thinking how perfect it would be to gift Matt with the news of another baby on our trip. The week before our anniversary I had been feeling a little nauseous and decided to take a test. It was positive! I was truthfully overjoyed and was somehow able to keep it a secret from Matt until our trip. I don’t think I had ever seen such pure joy on his face as he opened his “promoted to daddy again” gift, realizing we had new life growing. It was one of the sweetest moments we had ever shared, and it was a joyous weekend planning for our January baby.

Our Miscarriage 

The couple weeks following continued to be joyful and exciting as we shared the news with close friends and family. This baby was already so dear to me and the love I felt for him was strangely deep. It was a precious time for us. But around week 8, I woke up in the middle of the night with a high fever. It lasted almost 24 hours and I was fearful of the effect it would have on my developing baby. From that time on, all pregnancy symptoms had ceased. I had a terrible feeling something was wrong. That next week we had an ultrasound and our baby was showing a “heart flutter,” but not a strong heartbeat. The doctor and technician seemed hopeful he was just a little late in development and scheduled us to come back the following week. Deep down, I knew we were losing our baby. Again, that next week they saw the heart flutter and tried to encourage us. I just wanted to be told we were losing the baby so I could let myself start processing the grief instead of our emotions being kept in limbo, but we were asked to come back the following week. The morning of our appointment on July 7th, I woke up bleeding and having contractions. I was well prepared for the news we’d be receiving that day. The pain of contractions grew as we drove to our morning appointment.  That final ultrasound showed no sign of life, and I passed our baby shortly after.

Healing from this loss has taken time. By God’s grace, we are closer to Him and to each other through that season and have since welcomed our precious Owen James into the world! There is much aftermath to loss, but one of the biggest battles I have faced since our miscarriage is the battle between joy and fear.

The Battle Against Fear

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you (Psalm 56:3)

For me, it has seemed that the presence of joy means the immediate juxtaposition of fear. When I’m experiencing a moment of deep joy, there’s a subtle yet distinct nagging in the back my head insisting that “this won’t last,” like a subconscious defense mechanism to not let myself feel too joyful as protection from a deeper grief. A moment of pure bliss, untainted by the fear of always being on the cusp of loss, has seemed impossible. This has been a daily, and sometimes moment by moment, struggle that I’ve had to surrender to God and ask for His help to not be captive to fear and be able live a life of joy in Him.

Fear in and of itself is not sin, but the reasons we fear can be sinful. I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between a normal human expectation of sorrow this side of glory and a sinful preoccupation with the fear of loss. One thing that I have learned (and have been learning for most of my adult life) is that most of my spiritual struggles stem from a lack of understanding and basic trust in God’s goodness. I hesitate to say this, because I do truly know and believe God is perfectly good and that there is no wrong in Him; that in His goodness He allows sorrows in this life to make us more like Christ; that everything ultimately is for His supreme glory and our infinite good. But I had slowly allowed my definition of God’s goodness to be informed by the fact of suffering alone and God’s hidden purposes.

I started to realize that I lack trust in God’s ability to give good gifts as a means of pure enjoyment. I had unknowingly grown into a daily habit of bracing myself for grief. It was so hard for me to believe that it’s possible to just freely enjoy a date night with my husband, a snuggle with my daughter, a night out with friends, a phone call with my grandparents, without feeling like those I love could be snatched from me at any moment. But God has been teaching me that although unexpected loss is a true reality, there is a greater reality that is to be in focus.

The Battle for Joy

In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:4)

Joy should be a distinct mark of every believer, yet it seems to elude many of us. Students of God’s Word know that joy is non-circumstantial. Those hidden in Christ have everything they need for contentment and rejoicing in spite of what they may be experiencing. We know this, but how many of us feel we lack the distinction of joy in our lives? The sorrows we endure can seem to overwhelm the joy we are called to have. In John Piper’s beautiful sermon, “Joy Makes All Things New,” he explains the relationship between joy and sorrow:

In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Sorrowful and yet unbroken—not sequential—unbroken joy. I don’t think that’s a contradiction, because we use language that way. Don’t we? We all know that sometimes we use the word joy or delight or happiness to describe those bright, cheerful, sunny, smiling expressions of that good feeling. That’s not sorrow. But other times—and if you’ve walked with Jesus a while, you know this—we also talk about the sweet, precious, deep, unshakeable satisfaction in your soul through the worst of times.

The amazing reality for the Christian is that the reason for our joy is fixed. Whether in the midst of loss or in a season of plenty, our joy in God can remain undiminished.

So how can we freely live a life of joy outside of fears clutches, especially in times like we’re living in right now? How can I live a life of thanksgiving before the Creator for His goodness towards me without constantly having to brace myself for loss? Psalm 56 is a prime example of this. Notice verses 3 and 4:

When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?

David’s immediate response to fear is trust in God and his promises. God becomes weightier than his fears as he reflects on his gracious character, reminding himself that God is on his side, which results in joyful worship. This is how the battle for joy is won: realizing that God in Christ is for us. In an episode of Steadfast Hope, featuring an interview with author Kristen Wetherell discussing fear, she states: “Christians aren’t called to be fearless. They are called to fear the Lord.” She then gives the example of a double-sided scale with our fears on one side, and God on the other, and that the more we saturate our minds with Scripture, continually learning and focusing on who God is, He becomes clearer and weightier. It’s not that our fears no longer exist, but they grow dimmer in light of who God is and His promises.

Look to Christ, who is the “Yes” and “Amen” to all of God’s promises. Look to Christ, who is the author, perfecter, and finisher of our faith. Our fears may remain, our sorrows continue, but our joy in Christ will far outweigh whatever suffering we may be enduring. We have all experienced loss in one way or another. The pain can seem so deep that we lose focus of who God is­­; we lose our joy. Fear of experiencing that type of pain again can actually keep us from living a life full of thanksgiving. It is true that there is much to fear, but we can take heart that the holy, sovereign God of the universe is coming soon to make all things new and has called us to live a joy-marked life while we wait. Look to Him and rejoice.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:1-5).

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