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Can we feel sad when we have something we longed for?

Lynne Baab • Friday December 10 2021

Can we feel sad when we have something we longed for?

Heather went through three rounds of exhausting in-vitro fertilization before her healthy baby was born. In the months after the birth, she experienced post-partum depression, but she felt she couldn’t tell anyone about it. “I just felt I should not be feeling this way. After everything we’ve been through, why should I have any kind of depression?”

Kristin, mother of one child, lost a baby at 39 weeks of pregnancy, then miscarried. A year later, when her daughter was born with significant digestive issues and cried a lot, Kristin just about went crazy. She wanted to be thankful for having a child after losing two babies, but coping with a crying baby, plus a preschooler, was extremely difficult. She took comfort in telling herself, “Parenting is hard and not every moment of being a parent is going to be worth savoring.”

Heather and Kristin’s stories come from a New York Times article called You’re Allowed to Complain About Your Kids, Even After Infertility. The article highlights the inner messages of parents as they deal with the juxtaposition of their gratitude for their children with the sheer hard work of parenting that can wear parents down.

As I read the article, I thought about the parallels with the idea I’ve been writing about, holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. For those of you who have struggled with infertility, those conflicting inner messages will likely be familiar. For those of us who haven’t experienced infertility, we likely have areas in our lives where we wished for something, and then when we got it, we experienced complications and challenges. And we wonder why living with that gift is so hard when we longed for it so much.

Wishing to get married, and then finding that marriage requires significant, sometimes painful compromises. Longing for a stimulating job and then feeling overwhelmed at work. Desiring to own a house and finding it always needs repairs. Moving to a new location for a specific reason that turns out great, but making friends is harder than expected. Experiencing frustration that teenagers, an aging body, or retirement are more challenging than expected.  

The inner messages that accompany those kind of challenges have always been the hardest thing for me: “If only I could be thankful enough, the hard parts wouldn’t matter so much.” “What’s wrong with me that I can’t focus enough on the good aspects that the bad aspects fade into insignificance? After all, I really wanted this.”

I really, truly love the affirmation that we can hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other, and be stretched large by them, rather than thinking the thankfulness should cancel the grief out.

One of the therapists quoted in the New York Times article about infertility notes how important it is to find people with whom to share openly. “Those are people that know you’re grateful, and that talking about challenging feelings doesn’t mean that you’re not,” she said.

One of the moms quoted in the story, who named a newborn daughter Bella only to lose her immediately, seems to be holding grief and gratitude in two hands, without using those exact words. “I can be grateful for my kids, and it can be hard,” she said. “I can treasure the children I have but wish Bella were here.”

In the closing sentence of the article, note the author’s use of “grief,” “amazement” and “cheerlessness,” three words that capture so much about human life on this broken earth, where God’s gifts break in over and over: “I can hold it all — the jagged grief that never really went away after a fourth miscarriage, the amazement of watching my son climb to the top of the jungle gym that first time, and the cheerlessness of rushing to the morning school bus in the November frost.”

May we grow in affirming the reality of our grief, gratitude, amazement, and cheerlessness, while also bringing it all into God’s presence. May we rest in the peace and joy of Jesus’ presence with us in all of it.

(Next week: first post in a new series on a stance before God that includes receptivity and offering ourselves. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

My new book – Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life. Available as an audioboo, as well as paperback and kindle. 

This is the last post in a short series on grief and gratitude. (I did a much longer series on this topic two years ago. The first post in that series is here, and the others follow after). The posts in this short 2021 series are:

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