I've heard the words hundreds of times. "'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future'" (Jer. 29:11). Words often spoken with the intention of instilling hope, but so often they bring back that ugly bitterness in my heart, an unwelcome companion since my second-trimester miscarriage. What hope? What future, when the child I planned to raise is gone?? When I don't know if I'll ever get pregnant again? I have been harmed – physically, emotionally, spiritually. What kinds of plans are these, God?
Sometimes, though, I forget that these words were spoken to a people who had as little reason to hope as I feel I do. The Israelites were in exile in Babylon. They were a conquered people; their city and temple had been destroyed; they were far from home, and decades away from the Lord restoring them to their land. The older ones would not live to see that day. What hope, what future could they have? And yet, God gave them a task while they were in exile: Build houses. Settle down. Increase in number; do not decrease; seek the peace and prosperity of the city where you are exiled. In other words, live. Don't put life on hold, waiting to return to the Promised Land.
When I lost my daughter Naomi, I felt like I was going into exile. I had been in the pregnancy "club" where women talk about birth and labor and nurseries and baby showers, where the doctor's office was full of pregnancy and baby magazines. When I went back for a check-up after our loss, they scheduled me at a time for gynecology appointments, not pregnant women. The waiting room was the same, but I noticed – the magazines were gone. In their place were women's magazines that didn't scream "baby" on the cover. And while I'm sure they did that to save women the heartache of the reminder of what they'd lost, to me it was a stark reminder that I had switched club memberships, from expectant mother to mother of a baby in heaven.
I'd been exiled from the Promised Land. I felt conquered, defeated, without hope.
And yet – God had a task for me, too. To "increase, not decrease" – by committing myself to continue growing spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Would my time in exile end with a less mature woman than I had been at the beginning? Or would I use this time to grow? "Build houses" – I needed to commit to building the family and marriage that I have been given. Marriages have the potential to suffer terribly after the loss of a child. Would mine become a statistic, or would it come through stronger? "Seek the peace and prosperity" of my city of exile. I do not like the city of Pregnancy Loss. I don't think anyone who lives here does. But while I'm here, I can seek the peace and prosperity of those who live here with me – through prayer, encouragement, and a shoulder to cry on. I can build friendships with others who have been exiled here with me and help bring them back to the Promised Land – not the Land of Pregnancy, necessarily, but the Land of Hope and the Future, where we seek and find the One who does have plans for us and who longs to hold us in his comforting arms. And by seeking their "peace", I find peace, too, both within myself and with God.