Doors and Windows

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?

 

 

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

19 thoughts on “Doors and Windows

  1. There have for sure been times in my life where a disappointment turned out to bring a greater blessing than before imagined.

    But then there have been times when the disappointments just seem to have no meaning. I believe God has a plan but sometimes I think that it is a much bigger plan but it isn’t so much a plan that has been detailed out just for me. Does that make sense. I think some of our trials and problems just don’t make sense and there is no real reason behind them but just that they are a sucky part of life. And God just lets them happen because it is all a part of the mortal experience.

    I do believe through the atonement though that all these sucky things can sanctify us. But it is hard. Because sometimes He intervenes and gives us a miracle and relieves us from the trials. But some times he doesn’t intervene and excepting the times when he doesn’t is super hard.

  2. Rosalyn, this was beautiful. I’m sorry for your loss.

    I don’t really have the words to respond to your thoughts. I’m still working through concepts of meaning and transformation in my own life and don’t really have a solid grasp on the reality of being lifted every day. The beauty for ashes exchange feels very much like a future promise than a daily one. There are beautiful moments in each day, but the ashes have remained.

  3. I do believe Heavenly Father is a God of compensation – how, when (in this life or the next) who knows?
    Marion D. Hanks used to say “To believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair and there will be wonderful surprises”, referring to the next life. Both in reference to then and the mortality in which we now live, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said “We need to learn to pray not only “Thy will be done” but “Thy time be done”. But I do believe a time of compensation will come for those things we’ve suffered but didn’t cause.

  4. Rosalyn, thank you for this. Your words blessed my life. I absolutely agree with your view. Writing, for me, is about making order out of the daily chaos, and believing that there is a larger plan for my life rather than a balance sheet that records blessings and trials as if they were deposits and withdrawals from a divine account. The atonement is the one sure good true thing that can transform us, and as you said, transfigure us.

  5. Heather, I agree. There are certainly trials that we can’t seem to make much sense of. It’s reassuring to know that there’s a much larger picture than what we can see.

    Sharon–I hope so! I think the point I was trying to make is that we can’t live our lives *expecting* trials to make sense or disappointments to be rewarded by opportunities (in this life). Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, God can help us make something beautiful of our lives.

    Lisa, thank you for the kind words. Believing in a larger plan keeps me sane, some days!

  6. I love this:

    “I don’t think God sees trials and blessings as a matter of equity, but as a matter of transformation, ultimately of transfiguration.”

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my life lately, as well. I haven’t been miscarrying, but after several years of forced waiting before we could try to get pregnant (due to health issues), my husband and I are now mired in the trenches of infertility, coupled with a few months of really poor health on my part (lots more time in the hospital than I’d like to spend). I wouldn’t say that we have had windows opened. I’ve got more time for some stuff than I would have if I had a baby, sure, but I’d still rather have a baby! But, like you say, it has been a time of transformation and transfiguration for me, spiritually.

  7. I’ll also add, on the “beauty for ashes” note – the last three or so weeks of my life have been truly, spectacularly wonderful. I’ve felt a palpable sense of being lifted temporarily out of the frustration and sorrow that I’ve been dealing with this year. I’ve felt like my whole life is infused with joy, with peace, with delight, and more than anything with the Spirit of the Lord. I’ve felt myself growing and expanding, becoming more like the woman I want to be. It is, absolutely, the beauty in the ashes. I’ve gone through enough tough stuff to know that the trial isn’t over yet, and that before too long I’ll probably be in the place of grief again. I think it’s a cycle. But for now, I’m content to take delight in the beauty.

  8. I love your words. Too often I feel that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get caught up in the sayings that somehow evolve from pure doctrine, thus becoming just that–mere sayings and untruths. Once I dreamed that we as the rank and file fail to understand the magnitude and power of the all-encompassing Atonement, barely scratching the surface of what is available to us.

    I am grateful for the “micro plan” Heavenly Father has for me. Certainly I do not understand all His ways, for they are not mine. But I can testify that He is aware of us and His tender mercies are plentiful to those who will open their eyes to see His hand in all things. And as we seek for the spirit of discernment we will come to understand how our trials are enabling us to become perfected in Him.

  9. Cindy–I’m sorry to hear about your struggles with infertility, but I’m also glad to know you’ve been feeling lifted recently. I think it’s critical that we as members of the church remember that God won’t always take away our trials, but he will help us through them.

    Lisa–yes. He is definitely aware of us. It’s been revealing to me to find how, even in the midst of hard things like miscarriages, I can feel God close to me.

  10. I think I understand what you’re saying, but I lean towards the more optimistic side of your discussion.

    No, it isn’t as simple as doors closing and God opening a window. Our lives are too important and complicated to be adequately boiled down to a cliche.

    Every experience is for our good, and not just so that we know the bitter from the sweet. In reality God takes what man and Satan tear down and creates beauty and life – concrete real blessings – not ephemeral ‘one day I’ll get it’ kinds of blessings.

    My example of this is my former foster son. He was the product of a sleezy situation, to say the least. Through him I learned to be a better person, he gave me an opportunity to serve and grow. Through his adoption process I’ve gained a very good friend in his new mother. (The list is longer than that, but I’ll stop there.) From unprotected casual sex, drugs, illegitimacy, violence, neglect, poverty – it doesn’t get much worse than that – God created something wonderful from it: a happy boy and a new family.

    I can’t look back and say I’d trade all that for my foster son to never be abused. That isn’t the situation, not reality, not my choice. Instead I see the miracle of what God does when everything appears to be thwarted. God’s hand is made manifest, we are drawn closer to each other and to Him.

  11. I feel like I’ve been choking on ashes for the past 15 years, trying to make some beauty from it all. Some days feel beautiful, other days sooty. :)

    This past weekend was our stake conference, and in the adult session, our stake president reminded us of Job, and as he read from chapter 42, the end of verse 3 hit me as if I”d read it for the first time: “therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me that I knew not.”

    I am currently clinging to the idea that my current (and long) trial will end in things too wonderful for me that I’m simply not ready for, and that all the ashes I’m mucking around in is preparing me for the wonder.

  12. I believe all trials have blessings attached. It’s just the way it works. We are never left alone. Bad things happen to good people every single day. But if we rely on the Lord and His goodness, He won’t let us down. Simple, but true. So true.

  13. I like the thoughts and I totally agree that somethings don’t make sense and just happen, but God is mindful of us.

    And I really like this:
    “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.”

    So sorry about the miscarriages, mine have carried a lot of mixed feelings for me too.

  14. I wrestle with throwing away the concept of doors and windows too quickly (even as I don’t want the gospel to be treated like a cliché) because to me, whether God “allows” or “causes” is essentially the same. He can and does intervene in details, so when that doesn’t happen, I can’t believe there isn’t purpose in His big picture view. Just because I don’t see or understand it doesn’t mean that window isn’t there.

    So you ask “have you seen trials that didn’t necessarily “open windows” but which transformed you in some way?” I guess in my mind, such transformation is just another kind of open window…just one that is more process-based rather than event-based.

  15. Jen–yes, it’s tricky. We wouldn’t wish bad experiences on anyone, but sometimes the things we learn are invaluable.

    Jules–I hope you see your transformation soon.

    Sandra–thank you for the sympathetic voice! The miscarriages have been challenging partly because (obviously) of the loss, but they’ve also really challenged how I think of myself as a woman and mother (I always just thought I was good at being pregnant, but apparently not!).

    Michelle–I’m glad you voiced your disagreement! I agree that God sees purpose in our lives (particularly trials), I was just trying to wrestle with a sense that things don’t always have the one-to-one correspondence we expect (i.e., I’m going through this trial so I should be able to see some kind of reward/opportunity as a result). While I do think successful endurance of trial always brings blessings (often in the form of character building), disappointments aren’t always countered by the opportunities (as in, I lost this job, but a better one will come along later) I think that the doors and windows metaphor implies.

  16. Rosalyn,

    I love reading your posts, and typically find them when I need them most. This past week we’ve dealt with one of Eowyn’s (8 years old) classmates dying, as well as a colleague’s husband, on top of other family issues. I also had a hard time with so many of these bad things happening to good people and have decided that the experience helps shape us in a way that we are more capable of handling difficult situations in the future. While that doesn’t always bring comfort, it is nice to know that transformation is possible.

  17. ” I was just trying to wrestle with a sense that things don’t always have the one-to-one correspondence we expect”

    I agree, and that does go against the typical interpretation of the door/window analogy. Very often, faith requires us to wait on the Lord, His timing, His ways. Trusting in Him is something we talk about, but it can be hard to do. The natural (wo)man wants the one-to-one, I think.

  18. I’ve always loved the “beauty for ashes” reference in Isaiah 61:3. There’s a lot of other beautiful imagery in there: trading the “garment of praise” (a pretty Sunday dress?) for the “spirit of heaviness.” I suppose we’ll have to wait for the eternities to trade some of our mortal “ashes,” but hope’s a beautiful thing, regardless of the timing of the recompense.

  19. I’m sorry that you have suffered with two miscarriages. That’s just painful and then trying to make sense of it all. . .

    I suffered a miscarriage 9 months ago and it still stings. My kids still talk about a baby and my arms ache with the emptiness. At this moment, I can’t look for meaning in it all, because I am too close to it. Maybe someday. . .

Comments are closed.