FACING TRIALS WITH PURE JOY
Updated: Mar 4, 2020
Two Sundays ago, when Reverend David Wee began his sermon saying suffering does not discriminate and mentioned infertility as one of many afflictions, I immediately felt a sharp stab to my heart.
Job loss, sickness, divorce and death are common mentions when suffering is discussed. But infertility? That’s not commonly acknowledged or openly voiced when suffering is preached about.
So when Pastor David started with James 1:2-4:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
That hit me really hard. Right in my gut. Or, more accurately, right in my uterus.
Struggling with infertility for four years, I had lost my faith. I resented God. For an extended period, I couldn’t even say grace and give thanks for the food in front of me. Consider my trial pure joy? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Well-meaning members of a small group I was then attending, whom I had confided in, prayed over me confidently that our Lord, the Giver of Life, would open my womb. Just as He did Elizabeth’s when she gave birth to John the Baptist in her 60s. As much as I love those friends, I had to stop attending their sessions. I just could not handle their certitude.
Having married late in life, we tried naturally to conceive for a while - trusting that God would fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a mother. I mean, surely trust would lead to providence? As young as I can remember, I had always wanted to be just like my Mum - fetching us from school to ballet classes to swimming training. Growing up, my ambition was not just to be a ballerina, a published author or a Pulitzer Prize winner. Alongside those ambitions, I had always wanted to be a mum, driving a station wagon with two kids in the back and two dogs in the boot.
When our efforts were not bearing fruit and I started getting anxious after a year of marriage, my innate need to take control gripped me in a tight vise. I had always been a person with a plan: I would get married at 26, have my first child at 28, my second at 30, then enjoy my little family in my 30s and 40s, freeing myself thereafter to relish a child-free married life from my 50s onwards.
Well, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And, boy, did my plan completely lose the plot. There I was at 39 and I still had not met the right man who would commit.
It took three failed long-term relationships and a fair few years as a singleton before I finally gave in. Fine, if my destiny was to only be a daughter, sister and aunt, I willingly accept it, Lord. I shall henceforth give up looking for a life partner. Thus, I surrendered and blew out the candles of my 39th birthday cake.
Two days later, He introduced me to the man I had dreamed of walking down the aisle towards, all my life, but whose identity had eluded me till then.
God had been waiting for me to let go of my control and, when I did, He immediately ended my trials and blessed me with the desire of my heart. A modern day miracle, surely. But did I learn my lesson to persevere through future trials with some (even if not entirely pure) joy?
A year after the wedding, I decided I could wait no longer to conceive naturally and we turned to In-Vitro Fertilisation before it was too late.
During our first round, I produced two eggs when others my age would average at least a couple more. Out of the two, only one precious embryo got fertilised and implanted successfully.
We lost our embaby after 11 days.
Source: Joanne Lee Wong
The second round, I produced one solitary egg - something women my age do every month naturally with no need to inject themselves full of hormones. Nevertheless, it was there; we saw it on the ultrasound before the retrieval procedure. But when the doctor attempted the retrieval half an hour later, the egg was gone. All that help from Science and my womb was plain empty.
I was then told that my egg reserve was so low, further rounds of IVF would, in all probability, be equally futile.
The devastation was indescribable.
Motherhood, everybody says, is the best job in the world. What, God, I don’t even get a chance to try? People have second, third, fourth kids - You won’t even let me have one? What sort of Giver of Life are You, anyway?
You know how atheists like to say people need religion because they are weak and require comfort? Well, I didn’t turn to God for comfort. I pulled away. I let go of my faith. I have a pastor for a husband and even he couldn’t guide me to stay true to my convictions.
But after a year or so of struggling on my own, railing at my lot in life, imposing my control over everything - even contemplating egg donorship from my supportive sister - I realised how ungrateful I was being, how willful, how spoilt.
After months of refusing to talk to God, lashings of self-pity, and an ocean of tears, I finally lifted my downcast head and looked around me. And I slowly counted my blessings: an amazingly close-knit family, a privileged upbringing, an incredible husband, relatively good health and a comfortable life.
How dare I complain?
So I surrendered - again. I finally released my maternal dream and sheepishly turned back to God.
Once I did that, the scales fell off my eyes and I realised that He had always had more blessings in store.
Now that I do not have to support a dependent for the next 21 years, it frees me to make career decisions that will benefit my health greatly. That, in turn, will give me more energy to lavish on my two little nieces who love me to bits, and allow me more time with my parents in their autumnal season.
It will also free up my husband to relax in his approaching retirement years to pursue less-financially-rewarding but new, hopefully fulfilling callings. And perhaps we may enjoy a vacation here and there without feeling the guilt we would be weighed under if we were parents.
Why did I not see before that our late-in-life marriage would be far greater blessed with more time spent focused on each other in the relatively short period we have been granted?
In fact, looking back at my naive life plan in which I would get to enjoy a child-free married life in my 50s... God, in His mysterious way, has actually allowed that to come to pass - a few years ahead of time too!
Above all, He has blessed me with what I have always needed most: His peace. Having found peace of mind in every aspect of my life, I now know I can release my need to plan and control everything - and just surrender.
It does not mean I won’t face more trials, of course. They are there; and they are coming. But I now stand on His promises whatever suffering Life brings. And I pray my faith stays strong next time; that I learn, however unnaturally it may seem, to consider such trials pure joy and an opportunity to persevere.
So that I may mature, be complete, and not lack anything. Come what may, that sounds pretty good to me.
Joanne Lee Wong is a writer, wife and corgi mum. She’s not a bible scholar, teacher nor church leader - just a former journalist and member of a Methodist congregation who struggles reconciling her faith with everyday experiences. All views expressed are her own.