A reader posted a comment today asking me to address the question of how to know when — and presumably where — to draw the line in the pursuit of a diagnosis that can lead to effective treatment and, ultimately, parenthood.
“I am not searching for information in an obsessive desire to gain control. We need the right diagnosis before we pursue treatment. Don’t we? I appreciate where you are coming from, but I also wonder if it is misleading to some to imply that we must leave everything — even practical considerations for which we have human responsibility — up to God. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, as this issue troubles me. ‘Leave it all up to God’ can be taken too far….”
It’s a great question and a troubling issue for many infertile couples. Let me address it by sharing a story about my Dad.
My father was an oncologist who treated patients with rare and deadly forms of cancer. Because he spent years doing cancer research, and because he was a determined perfectionist, he made it his business to know every possible avenue from their sickness to health. And, he promised to do everything he could to help them reach the desired outcome.
Occasionally, a patient would respond to the recommended treatment with horror — So painful! So taxing! So prolonged! — and state confidently: “God is going to perform a miracle and heal me.” My father, the faith-full son of a minister, would respond: “That would be great, and I’d love to witness it, but it’s possible that that isn’t God’s plan.”
Then, he’d tell them the story of a man trapped in his home during a flood. As the flood waters rose, the man’s next door neighbor floated up to his front door in a two-man rowboat. “Want to jump in? We can paddle to dry land.” The man waved him off saying, “No thanks. God will save me.” The floodwaters rose and the man was forced to climb up to his attic. From this vantage point, he could see the water rising quickly over the town. A local sheriff steered a motorboat toward the man’s attic window and called, “I’ll come get you! It’s not too late to get to dry land a few miles away!” The homeowner signaled no, calling out, “I’ll be fine. God will save me.”
As the water continued to rise, the man was forced to climb out the attic window onto his roof. All he could see for miles around was water. No one else seemed to be standing on their rooftop waiting on God to perform a miracle. A helicopter flew overhead and a voice boomed out of a loudspeaker, “This is your last chance! We’re going to throw down a ladder! Abandon your home! Save yourself!” The man responded, “I’m trusting God! He can do anything!” He waved off the helicopter, and the pilot flew away shaking his head. The floodwaters continued to rise and the man finally drowned.
When he arrived in heaven, he asked God angrily, “Didn’t You see me on my roof? I told everyone You’d perform a miracle. Why didn’t You save me?!” God answered with a sigh, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
The point my father was trying to make is that, although God is capable of performing miracles – and sometimes He does, He is also capable of intervening in our circumstances through others. As Dad often said, “Medical miracles don’t happen every day; that’s why they call them miracles.”
Our unwillingness to avail ourselves of help from any source but God Himself is actually a decision to refuse His help — except on our terms, in ways that fit our sense of how the story should unfold.
So, can “leave it all up to God” be taken too far?
Every once in a while, one of the patients who’d refused further treatment from my father, deciding instead to wait for a miracle, would die — just like the man who drowned on the roof of his house. It broke his heart. As he’d share the news with us, usually around a somber dinner table, he would remind us, “It was their choice.” He would explain that adults sometimes insist that God act on their terms and their timetable, or else. And they’d wind up with Or Else.
That can happen on the infertility journey, too. Couples can insist that God help them conceive on their timetable with the treatment they’ve decided to pursue — or else. Or else what? Very often, or else they fail to become parents and their anger at God drives a wedge between them and the only One with the power to make anything possible.
Sometimes, patients who elected to pursue my Dad’s recommended treatment would reach a point in their illness when he’d need to say, “There’s not much more I can do for you.” They would have entrusted themselves to his care believing God could and would act through him. But, medical science would have reached its limits. He would have failed to deliver the cure they’d both hoped for, and God would not have performed a miracle.
It was time to make the rest of the journey with an altered perspective. He would ask them, “How do you want to spend the rest of your life, knowing that your time is limited? What, and who, is most important to you? You have the gift of knowing that these will be your last days/weeks/months. How will you invest them?” It was never an easy conversation, but it was a deeply spiritual one – and one that many family members tearfully thanked him for having, once the journey was over.
There’s a parallel here, too, to the infertility journey. Sometimes, having pursued the course of treatment that we believe makes sense, having viewed the science of medicine as a gift from God, we find ourselves at the end of the well-travelled road. Now what? Where should we turn? What should we do? No one can tell us with certainty how our journey will unfold, if we choose to press on. No one can guarantee where we’ll wind up, or if we’ll be glad for the choices we made.
No one but God.
He has traveled this far with us, and He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
It is this part of the journey than can be life-changing. As we cry out to Him, “Why is this happening?!” we pour our effort into seeking answers to questions we’ve tried hard to avoid: “What if our dream isn’t your plan, God? What does that mean? Why do other people conceive successfully while we struggle? Why are you so often silent in the face of our tears and pleas? Where are You?!”
Wrestling with these questions can lead us into a new, deeper intimacy with God. If and when we trust the relationship enough to let go of our plans and, instead, gratefully embrace whatever God gives, He promises “all things [will] work together for good….” Our story may look nothing like what we’d envisioned. But it will be His purposeful, intentional, grace-filled best for us. I have seen this happen countless times — in my own life, in the lives of Dad’s patients, and in the lives of infertile couples.
It can happen in your life, too.
If you want to dig deeper into scripture, and into the stories of couples who’ve made this journey and agreed to share their first-hand accounts, I encourage you to read Pregnant With Hope: Good News for Infertile Couples. You’ll find wisdom, comfort and hope.