Four years ago, I found out that something I assumed would be a given–something I had grown up staking my heart on–may never come to be.
Until then, I had never really faced a struggle that was truly insurmountable. For the most part, whatever challenges came my way were resolved by extra studying, diligent research, a better-paying job, therapy, medication, or (in my more faithful moments) prayer.
But this new thing, this new, dark possibility, wouldn’t (and hasn’t) responded to any of my best efforts or prayers–faithfully offered or otherwise.
Grief enters our lives through all sorts of different doors–death, unemployment, sickness, physical infirmity, and so many others I can scarcely begin to count.
And to some, especially those who perhaps have never faced it, this particular grief may not seem like a big one. There are, as I once believed myself, worse things in life.
But then you find yourself here–unexpectedly, for no apparent reason, and against not only your wishes but pretty much every expectation you had for your adult life–and you quickly realize this is no minor thing. This, indeed, affects everything.
When I received the news, I quietly staked out everything I could find on the subject from an Orthodox perspective. (Emphasis on the “quietly” part, because I didn’t want anyone suspecting we were struggling with this. If no one found out, it wouldn’t have to be real.)
I soon realized, however, that there’s not a lot out there. And even less that actually speaks to the deep grief of this predicament in a way that could help me integrate what I was facing with my faith in a God who is supposedly good and life-giving.
Someone needs to write a book about this, I complained–partly to myself, partly to God. At the time, I was not an author. The Time Eternal podcast had not even been launched yet. I was not yet finished with my PhD. I hadn’t begun teaching at the Orthodox School of Theology. It never occurred to me that I should write about it. I wasn’t at all sure what the next few years of my life held in store, except I was starting to realize what they probably wouldn’t hold in store.
Someone needs to write about this, I continued.
I began giving God some unsolicited publishing advice. I was sick of books on this topic that failed to really get at the spiritual and existential meat of this grief. To do that, the author needed to have some qualifications.
First of all, the author should already have a platform and at least a book in print already–otherwise she’ll only be known for this topic, and that would be a pretty dismal thing to be known for.
And yes, the author should be a she. People expect this to come from a woman. But it should speak to men, too, because men have feelings too. And because marriages are what need support on this, not just men and women as isolated individuals.
She should maybe have some academic training. It needs to bridge discourses on theology and theological anthropology with the real-life trenches of experience. Plus academics struggle with this problem, too.
She should be familiar with the ethnic side of Orthodoxy. This topic is experienced a bit differently there than in more convert-heavy parishes.
Also, she should have been dealing with this problem for a longer time than I have–at least a few years. She’s really got to be in the trenches of this thing.
Thankfully I didn’t really meet my own criteria for the person who needed to write this book, because it was absolutely the last thing I wanted to write about.
So, grief and all, I got on with my life–finishing my PhD, starting Time Eternal, working, settling into Canada and my marriage. The years ticked by. I started teaching. I wrote a book on the spiritual sickness of despondency (which if I’m honest, was really just a way to grapple with this grief that I’m talking about).
And after that, I didn’t know what to write about.
Because I’d always assumed that by then, this thing–this grief–would be over. I thought by the time I wrote a book, life would have changed. Heck, I thought that by the time I finished my PhD, life would have changed. That I would have had to put whatever career ambitions I had on hold for… well, other things.
But it hadn’t changed, not in the way I longed for.
And one day, years later, I turned around and realized I met every one of the criteria I’d haphazardly outlined before God years earlier. (What, you were listening to that, God?)
No. I told him. Stop looking at me.
But the writer’s block continued. And if there’s one way to persuade this writer to do something, God only knows it’s with the promise of good writing material while I’m stuck in a prolonged dry spell.
OK, fine. If this is what I’m to write about, I’ll do it. I told Him. But it’s not going to be a memoir. Too personal, too painful. Also, probably too boring.
And God must have been listening to that whining prayer, too, because that week, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, He provided (or reminded me of) a ram of sorts. Someone else’s story. A way to talk about these things without talking about myself.
And here I am, sharing this news nearly a year later, as we anticipate the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. It’s a #TimeEternal moment.
What can I say except that books, like grief, enter our lives through all sorts of different avenues, too. And this one was not the book I asked to write. It was certainly not the book I dreamt of creating when I was a little girl with authorial ambitions. It was not the one I thought would follow Time and Despondency.
Still, I think it’s a book I was supposed to write.
More than anything, though, it’s the book I wish I could have read four years ago, after coming home from the doctor’s office, trying–with my husband–to process something I never in a million years saw coming.
Please pray for me as it heads into publication!
Under the Laurel Tree: Grieving Infertility with Saints Joachim and Anna
Ancient Faith Publishing
Expected publication date: Fall 2019
Infertility is frequently cited as one of the hardest griefs a couple can face. Yet this painful issue is all too often neglected in both Church and society. Under the Laurel Tree traces one God-fearing couple’s journey through the shame of childlessness. Although their grief provoked spiritual and marital turmoil, this couple has been revered from the earliest centuries of Christian tradition as the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. By following the story of Saints Joachim and Anna, this book helps individuals and couples navigate the grief of infertility, amid shame, isolation, advice, bargaining, and despair. Joachim and Anna’s path through this grief ends not with the birth of Mary the Theotokos, but several steps before that: when they reconciled as a couple and gave thanks to God. This book is for all who are trying to fight the good fight of faith during infertility. In walking alongside Joachim and Anna, we encounter not only a lifegiving template for grief, but also the path back to ourselves, our partner, and our God-given vocation of Eucharistic thanksgiving.