I always wanted a big family. Though I only had two brothers, I come from a huge extended family. My dad is one of twelve. Sunday lunches at my grandparents’ house were loud and crowded — aunts and uncles sharing TV trays, their plates piled high with Grandma’s baked steak or glazed ham, cousins packed around the coffee table rushing to finish so we could go outside to play Red Rover or Freeze Tag or, on winter days, to duck back the hallway to play with Barbies. Afternoons spent flanking the long dining room table, the jangle of Yahtzee dice in the cup.
Easter brought elaborate egg hunts – prize eggs stuffed with a quarter or slip of paper to redeem a special candy prize. Christmas Day filled the living room with discarded wrapping paper and the empty boxes from Matchbox cars or baby dolls. New Year’s Eve rang in with a cousins’ party – sausage balls, chocolate chip cookies, homemade Chex Mix, and sparkling grape juice. Late summer brought a giant family reunion – squeals as second and third cousins played on the swingset or ran through the yard, hearty laughter or loud discussions ringing from the tables under the tent borrowed from the local funeral home.
This crowded, lively, happy chaos is what I wanted. I wanted my hands full and my heart fuller with my children and, eventually, their children until my hands and heart and house burst at the seams with people and bustle and love.
So God and I made a deal. I would happily welcome children from God whenever they came. I wouldn’t do anything to prevent them or schedule them to my convenience. I believed with all my soul that children are a blessing – a good and gracious gift from God. And I promised God I would welcome and raise the children given to me, always with the perspective that they are a gift from Heaven.
I happily had six children in seven-and-a-half years — each child hoped for, prayed for, eagerly welcomed, desperately wanted.
And then my uterus started to fall out. I know. I know. It seems like the punch line of a crude joke. And believe me – I’ve probably heard them all! The Fertile Myrtle jokes. The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe jokes. The Do You Know What Causes That? joke. The uterus falling out jokes. I’ve heard the jokes, the sarcastic comments. I’ve received the looks of derision, of pity, of disgust. I’ve seen the surprise as people counted the little row of them following me through a grocery store.
But – for real – my uterus was falling out. And it hurt. I was spending more and more time lying down, propping my feet up, trying to get gravity to help everything stay where it belonged. Often, tears stung my eyes and brimmed over if I was vertical for too many hours. I knew I wasn’t being the very best mom I could be to my six little ones. And that hurt so much worse than the physical pain.
So I talked to my doctor. And my choices stunk like hot garbage. I could continue as I was. Or I could have a hysterectomy. That’s it. Those were the only real options for me.
As my doctor handed me a tissue and put his arm around me, I chose the hysterectomy.
Then – in the quiet solitude of my big, black Suburban, I spoke with God. Ok, actually, I spoke AT God. Hot tears streaming down my face. Snotty, slobbery sobs. I didn’t understand. We had a deal. This was who I was – a mother of many. This was my identity, all wrapped up in my full hands and full heart. A double stroller and a baby in a sling. My little row of stair-step babies lined up on a pew at church. This was the plan! I was angry and confused.
And in the middle of all those big emotions, I also felt deep guilt and shame. What even was wrong with me? I had six healthy children. Six! Half an actual dozen! That’s a lot! I had friends who struggled to carry even one baby to term. Their empty arms cried out to God for just one child. And here I was – so brokenhearted and upset that I couldn’t have more than six babies. It seemed ridiculous. Greedy. And yet – here I was. And my grief was real.
The future I had envisioned, the plans I thought I understood – abruptly changed. I didn’t understand. I thought I had understood what God wanted from me, who God wanted me to be. I couldn’t pray real prayers. I could only cry to God that I was angry, that I felt tricked. Instead of praying in the formula I’d learned – adoring and praising God with worshipful words and listing all I was grateful for – I just wept out my disappointment and confusion and anger. A jumbled heap of a broken dream, a broken heart. And like a broken record, I was stuck.
One day, I confessed this to a woman I knew – an older woman who was a little farther down life’s path, a mentor and teacher. Though shame threatened me with lies, I risked vulnerability for 30 seconds and told her about my grief, my anger, my guilt, and my inability to pray or worship God.
She listened with great compassion. Then she said something that would change my life. “Your anger and your disappointment are a form of worship. As you yell at God, you are affirming your belief that God is sovereign. That if anyone is to blame for this, it’s God because God is the One in charge. That is a form of worship. Look at the laments in the Bible. Look at the Psalms. Your prayers and your pain are acts of worship.”
In that moment, I heard that it’s OK to be completely honest with God. Because God already knows what I’m thinking and feeling. And because honesty is an act of worship. Really – it’s not like I can convincingly fake it with God anyway. God is God. God knows when my prayers are hollow words and when my heart isn’t in it. I may as well pour it all out – the despair, the anger, the pain, the confusion, the disappointment. And then God and I can sort through the mess together.
Since that day when my baby was one and my heart was wrapping around the idea that I’d never carry another baby in my body, I’ve had many opportunities to worship God with honest prayers of lament and confusion and anger and despair. These prayers often don’t follow a formula or end with an “Amen.” But they are the truest prayers I know.
Jesus said we worship God in Spirit and in truth. When my spirit groans and sobs with blurting words of “Why?” or “I don’t understand!” or “I’m so angry!” or “I need help!” – this is worshipping God in truth. Affirming that I believe God is real and sovereign and that God comes close and listens to me, that God cares.
There’s worship in an honest prayer. As I break open and pour out my heart and my tears, God receives it as the truest form of worship.