A few mornings ago, my five-year-old son climbed out of our mini-van and announced, “Mom, I wish we had a baby.”
“Me, too,” I said, pre-occupied with getting my three-year-old out of the car and only half-listening.
He went on, “I wish our baby hadn’t died. I wish I had my baby brother.”
My breath caught a little. How was I supposed to answer that? He knew, of course, that I’d had a miscarriage months ago, because the miscarriage was late and we’d told our children we were expecting—only to tell them a couple of weeks later that the baby had died. He didn’t know that I’d had another miscarriage a little over a month ago, our second in six months.
Finally I said, “I wish that too. But it’s not really something we have control over.”
He lost interest after that, but I was left thinking. I’ve been doing that a lot, lately. In particular, I find myself thinking about the saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” I don’t like this phrase. Not only is it cliché, but I have issues with the implied theology. It’s not that I don’t believe that God oversees and directs our paths, but I don’t buy the causality implied here. I don’t believe God causes all of our trials. How would one then make sense of tragedies like the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11? Or even, on a smaller, more personal scale, can I believe that God caused the babies I was carrying to die? Rather, I believe that God allows things to happen, either because he sees in them possibilities for our growth or simply because he’s allowing us to exercise agency.
I’m also not convinced that God will always “open a window” as if it’s some kind of cosmic consolation prize for our disappointment. I don’t know if God sees our trials and blessings on the kind of balanced scale we sometimes tend to, believing that a just God will find a way to balance our trials and disappointments with blessings. Disappointment doesn’t inevitably leads to a greater opportunity. At least not immediately, and often not in ways we expect. I don’t think God sees trials and blessings as a matter of equity, but as a matter of transformation, ultimately of transfiguration.
In 2 Corinthians 1:6, Paul wrote: “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” For Paul, it didn’t matter whether he faced trial or blessing—either would ultimately be transformed into spiritual gain.
If I had to choose a metaphor for what I’m going through, I prefer Bruce Hafen’s “Beauty for Ashes,” the idea that the atonement can ultimately transform even the ashes of our lives into something beautiful. He writes: “Each of us will taste the bitter ashes of life, from sin and neglect to sorrow and disappointment. But the atonement of Christ can lift us up in beauty from our ashes on the wings of a sure promise of immortality and eternal life. He will thus lift us up, not only at the end of life, but in each day of our lives.”
Sometimes that beauty comes by way of opportunities we might not have had, had our lives gone according to plan. I’ve seen some of those tender mercies, tiny embers and sparks flickering in my own “ashes.” Shortly after my first miscarriage, I signed up for a writer’s conference that inspired me to start writing fiction again for the first time in years, bringing a much needed creative spark to my life. More recently, an opportunity opened up for me to attend an important professional conference in my field (an opportunity I would have had to turn down had the second pregnancy carried).
I’m not saying I wouldn’t rather have a baby—especially after conversations like the one I had with my son. But I find myself willing to believe that God has a larger plan for my life than what I can see, and if he’s not actively closing doors, he is perhaps shaping portals and passages that could transform my life in ways I can’t yet fathom.
Have you had disappointments turn into unexpected opportunities? Alternately, have you seen trials that didn’t necessarily “open windows” but which transformed you in some way?