The 18th century poet Robert Burns famously wrote in “To a Mouse”;
“But Mouse, you are not alone, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!”
This poem would later be the inspiration for a novel more of us may be familiar with, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. A quote the regular readers of this blog may be more familiar with, “If you’re ever looking for a joke to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” This is not necessarily a “feel good” blog post, but is meant for those who find themselves wandering in their own metaphorical wilderness.
Best Laid Schemes
My wife Frankie and I were married long before most of our friends and family that are our age. I remember at our wedding reception that my father-in-law remarked during his toast that what Frankie and I had most in common was that we were both dreamers. This is certainly true to this day. We love to dream and make plans for the future. Before our marriage we, like many couples, discussed how many children we were going to have. I only ever had one sibling, so I was set on two. Frankie always leaned toward three or four, possibly more if time allowed. We never came to an agreement on family size. Although we delayed trying to start a family for a while for various reasons—some better than others—we finally began making a concerted effort in 2013. As of this post in October 2017, we have no positive family news to share. Suffice it to say, if you asked us today Frankie would be overjoyed for one and I would take ten if that’s what it took.
It has been four years since we made the decision to start trying. In that time we have watched our other friends and family get married. Those who have decided to start families have. We have other friends who had sworn they would never have children, who have since changed their minds and started families. We have been counselled by many well-intentioned individuals and couples. “Everyone always gets pregnant after they stop trying,” so they say. We have lost count of the times we’ve been asked if we have considered adoption. We have tried medications, hormones and injections. We have implemented NFP and had recourse to private devotionals and even the use of relics. Frankie has had surgery and I recently went under the knife myself to potentially better our odds. We have read many “think positive” articles from couples who struggle with infertility—which always seem to be written by couples who eventually had success and so lose their ability to really offer the consolation they seek to give. They tell you, “keep your chin up because eventually it will happen because it did for us.” Despite their best intentions this is not all always true. With each new family and friend who discovers our situation, we are offered prayers and encouragement. The prayers are certainly appreciated, but we no longer hold our breath for the encouraging words to come to pass. We are always hopeful, but we’ve been crushed too many times to get excited.
As the years pass by and our friend’s children prepare for their first days of school, we still walk by the room we chose to be the nursery long before our friends were even married. We keep the door closed anymore; it makes it a little easier. We receive baby shower invitations and the occasional uninformed heckling from family about when we will start our own family. We simply smile, fake laugh and put on our happy face. We wish all the young families the best and we are truly happy for them. We are jealous, but not envious. But every baby picture is a reminder of what we have not yet been given.
I am not writing this in an attempt to garner sympathy. My hope is that this finds a reader who are themselves in the midst of suffering and that they know they are not alone. These past years our pain and suffering has grown. While our house becomes increasingly larger than we need, our relationship as husband and wife has grown stronger. Through our trials, we have come to identify and see so many of our fellow suffering brothers and sisters with a new sense of compassion that we never had before. We have also come to a more concrete respect and understanding for the value of all human life. It has also taught us more patience in dealing with others and highlighted our lack of awareness of what challenges others may be facing in their life. I do not know what you are suffering from, but there is hope. If not in a solution to your pain, then in the realization that Christ has a purpose for your suffering even if as of yet you do not know to what end. Ultimately Christ came to show us what love is. That love found its apex in His Passion and death. I do not know the path that lays before you as you carry your cross, but know that the greatest saints have found their greatest intimacy with Christ in their moments of anguish. Do not allow your trials to make you bitter, as it has made us from time to time. Allow them to make you stronger and hopefully, through your tears, you can gaze upon the face of Christ as Mary did at Calvary. Perhaps if you are lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of your fellow man through the tears and blood of Christ as He died on the cross for those whom he loved. I do not know if there is a light at the end of your suffering in this earthly life, nor if there is one at the end of ours.
Matthew 26:53 reminds us that at the time of His arrest Jesus willingly held back the armies of heaven who could come to His physical rescue. The Apostles looked on as they couldn’t fathom anything positive coming from Jesus’s capture. As we speak, I know that Frankie and I have our own legions of friends and family—in this life and the next—interceding on our behalf. Like that faithful night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is holding back the direct answer to our prayers. Like the Apostles we look on from our own state of suffering and cannot comprehend why. Yet it is by faith that we know that His will and His plan are far greater than we can ever imagine.
My Parting Thoughts
Where Robert Burns failed in writing his poem is in its closing;
“Still you are blessed, compared with me! The present only touches you; But oh! I backward cast my eye, On prospects dreary! And forward, though I cannot see, I guess and fear!”
Unlike the mouse, we have assurance that at some point in this life or the next the purpose of our suffering will be revealed. If we have preserved in faith, it will not have been for naught. Until that time, stay strong and carry the weight of the cross. You may fall, but even Jesus fell. To all the other mice and men who feel themselves being crushed under the weight of the cross, I hope this post finds you as Simon of Cyrene found Christ on His way to Calvary; a journey that concludes not with an end to pain and suffering, but to its fulfillment and the glory of God.
”I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church… For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you and for those in Laodicea and all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged as they are brought together in love, to have all the richness of assured understanding, for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
- Excerpts from Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse” have been modernized for readability.