I am so glad to host Kristen Leigh Kludt on the blog this week. She wrote A Good Way Through, which I have on my resource page as a book that helps you find God in disappointment and gives guidance on practices that are helpful during that time. Be sure to check her offer for you to get a discount on her Field Guides for the Way at the end of the post!
Without further ado, here are her words about finding God’s love in the midst of facing disappointment and disillusionment in the midst of infertility.
Grief in the unknown: It is baffling. How do you grieve the loss of something that never was? I had so much need in that time, so much pain I couldn’t contain. Many days, I just didn’t want to be the sad one. People were careful around me, and I needed them to be, but their being careful didn’t help the pain. My pain was obvious, no matter how I masked it, no matter how high the walls I built around my heart. Even when I smiled, my eyes were glassy, empty. I was ragged, broken, trying to keep it together enough to be appropriate in public, then screaming silently behind closed doors. How else could I function? We have to go on at times like that. There is no choice. So I danced back and forth between grief and pretending. I let out enough pain often enough that it did not consume me completely, and I faked it the rest of the time.
Where was God in all of this? In my heart, God was distant, angry. I assumed God was disappointed with me and maybe didn’t love me much. In reality, I was the distant, angry one—distant, often, even from my own emotions. How could the God I loved let this happen to me? Was I just not worthy of having something to love?
These questions intensified in our months of infertility, but they were not new to me. I first remember questioning God’s love for me in high school.
Behind my childhood home there was a silver maple, five stories high, with branches that wrapped around the house and hugged my room on two sides. Outside my bedroom window was the roof of the downstairs porch, and I used to climb out onto the roof at night, just to sit under my tree, to watch the wind in its branches. I cried, sang, prayed, and dreamed under that tree. In the minutes before a coming storm, I heard the voice of God in that tree, singing anticipation in its branches, silver leaves shimmering in the wind, whipping through the air like my hair on a windy day.
I felt close to God as a child. I prayed a lot and read my Bible. My belief ran deep; faith in Jesus was the ground I walked on. I believed God was good and Jesus died for me to save me from my brokenness. I worked hard to live up to that gift. I was kind to kids who others disliked. I gave 10 percent of my allowance to church. In high school, I met every week with a mentor, and I took summer trips with the youth group. I discovered the power of musical worship in a new way. I loved my God and the life I lived.
When I was a senior in high school, in the month before my first experience of depression, my beautiful silver maple started to split down the middle. It was a windy summer, and I had to sleep downstairs on a mattress in the family room for a few nights before the tree was taken down, in case it fell on the house.
Men came. First, they stripped the tree of its branches. It became a naked lopsided trunk. Piles of limp silver-leaved limbs littered the yard. My beautiful tree, provider of summer shade, creator of golden drifts to run and play and hide in during autumn, the screen through which I looked down upon the white winter world, was now bare, its majesty lost to a couple of men with a chainsaw.
The sky behind my parents’ house still doesn’t look right to me.
What do we do when the symbols of God-in-this-world are stripped away?
There were other precipitating factors, but the loss of that tree sparked my first downward spiral. I had my first panic attack. I didn’t eat well. I wanted my body to mirror what was happening in my heart—to feel sick, lusterless. My mom cared for me well, talking me through my first panic attack and making me rice with butter when I wouldn’t eat anything else. She trusted, through what I now know was plenty of fear in her own heart, that I would come out of it, and I did. I made new friends, tried new things, and found God and myself in new ways. I grew up a little.
In adulthood it was harder, more complicated. My mom was now two thousand miles away. From the outside, I looked much the same, but inside something was different. My self-talk turned cruel. How could you do that? Why did you say that? That was so stupid. I would never speak to another human being in that judgmental, degrading way. In my deepest heart, a part of me believed this was God’s voice, and God was angry with me because I wasn’t good enough.
I had two strategies to escape the self-talk: I napped a lot, and I kept moving, filling my life with people and activity. I hid from the fear of what was happening in my own heart. I could only hide for so long.
I started therapy. It helped, though it was awkward at first. I wasn’t sure what to do, and Dr. L. didn’t ask a lot of questions, so I just talked a lot and tried not to feel weird. As she got to know me, she said a few things and asked a few questions. She would say, “Wow, your god sounds really angry and hard to please.” I would say, “No, he isn’t!” but then I started to realize my god was angry, and I was serving a god who I would never profess I believed in. The God I wanted to serve and thought I knew was infinitely more patient and gracious and loving than the one I was serving.
People asked if I was angry with God because of my infertility. I wasn’t. That would have been healthier. Instead, I was terrified of God. I was certain God was angry with me. I felt abandoned, unseen, unworthy, and unwanted. I was looking first at myself and then at people around me to figure out who God was. Now I try my best to reverse the order, and look to what I know about God to try to understand myself and other people.
After my first session I brainstormed in my journal ideas for “homework”—what could I do to live differently after realizing some new things about myself? How could I practice a new way of being? My list of ideas was hazy, mostly having to do with trying harder not to try so hard to be so composed all the time, to act and look and be so darned competent and responsible.
It took a few more months before I stumbled into a much better, more concrete practice: field trips. For four months, every Saturday afternoon I went on a field trip. The only rules were that I went by myself and invited God along.
It’s hard to describe how hard this was for me. The person I was least at ease with was myself. Perhaps it was not myself, but this projection of God that I had created based on my deepest fears and hurts. In this moment of desperation, I decided that in order to learn to like myself, I was going to have to hang out with myself. In order to be less afraid of God, I would have to be alone with God.
I began tentative and became joyful. I took myself out for tea a few times and brought books or my watercolor paint set. I tried to be kind to myself. I walked in the Huntington Gardens and remembered that I love to be outside under big trees. I started to look forward to these trips.
Time passed. I came to a place where I could sometimes be happy and I liked myself a little bit. I became less afraid of my own darkness. I didn’t exactly hear from God, but the anger I had perceived from God began to dissipate. I started to believe there was something else surrounding me instead.
Maybe it was love.
Discovering my belovedness required two disparate movements. First, there was an inward movement, a deep dive into my own darkness. I needed to be alone with God in my most tender places and discover I was OK. I needed to find a source of joy within my own heart.
Second, was an outward movement toward other people. In reaction to a broken friendship, I had retreated almost completely. I had put walls between my heart and everyone around me except for Dave. His friendship was enough for a little while, but now I needed to find a measured path toward openness and vulnerability. When I experienced my belovedness alone, I could then experience it more deeply with other people. Out of a growing assurance that I was loved, I could let other people in.
“Excerpt from A Good Way Through by Kristen Leigh Kludt, ©2017. Used by permission.”
Kristen now creates Field Guides for your own creative field trips with God.
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Field Guides for the Way offer the intentionality and practice of a contemplative retreat woven into your everyday life. Each beautifully curated kit contains invitations and supplies for a journey deeper into your relationship with God, your own heart, and your life.
As a special offer for you, Kristen is offering 10% off your entire order (enter MULDER10 at checkout)! Purchase by next Saturday, March 2. For more on what the field guides are and to order, click here: Field Guides for the Way.
Kristen Leigh Kludt is a writer, speaker, and contemplative adventurer. Creator of Field Guides for the Way and author of A Good Way Through, Kristen is a gifted story-teller and teacher. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love and invites others to do the same. She is a member of The Chapter and serves on the board for ReIMAGINE, a Center for Integral Christian Practice. She lives, works, and plays in San Francisco’s East Bay with her husband and two young sons.