On this edition of Truth in Love, Dr. Lambert talks with Rebekah Hannah about how Christians should respond to miscarriage. Rebekah Hannah offers biblical guidance for women who have had miscarriages and for Christians who want to love their friends who have experienced miscarriages.
Heath: One of the most painful realities any person can experience in this fallen world is the loss of a child to miscarriage. Our guest today on Truth in Love is Rebekah Hannah, who is a certified counselor with ACBC and who works for Christian Union doing biblical counseling on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Rebekah has gone through the pain of miscarriage twice in her life and has done ministry with women who have gone through it in their own lives. I’m so thankful that Rebekah is here to help us think through these issues and a biblical response to them today. Rebekah, we’re glad you’re with us. Why don’t you begin by telling us about your own story in this regard?
Rebekah: When I endured my first couple of miscarriages, I was already counseling others. So I already had a biblical framework for comfort and hope working through those particular hardships in my own heart. The hard part was going through the different stages of the miscarriage. So going to the doctor, ending up in the ER, having the DNC, and then afterward explaining it to people, and having to respond to people in different ways were the most difficult parts for me. It’s a chore each time you experience one of those things to deal with your emotions, deal with your heart, deal with how you’re going to respond, not only internally to the Lord, but also outward to the people around you.
Heath: My wife and I experienced a miscarriage when she was about mid-term. We walked through so many of those things, including having to announce to a church who we had just told, “We’re going to have baby!” We had to go back and tell everybody that we weren’t going to be having a baby. That was deeply painful. And we were surprised as we went through that process at the number of really well-intended Christians who said unbelievably hurtful things. We had people look at us and say, “Don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll have two kids next time.” One woman looked at my wife and tried to encourage her that at least she would lose the baby weight. I’m shocked to even repeat that people would say those things to somebody. These are well-intended Christians who mean to comfort us, but sometimes they say really painful things. Why don’t you talk about things that you have heard and what you think drives some of those trite painful sayings.
Rebekah: I don’t think people understand the gravity of miscarriage because it’s not a loss of life that they’ve experienced themselves. It’s not a life that they had front row seats to, only to experience the realization that it’s gone. For a mother who feels like her desire and her purpose is to be pregnant and then give birth and to deliver life, but that life is now dead is a crushing reality. It’s the one thing she was supposed to be able to do and now her body has failed her. And people outside of her body don’t exactly know what to do with that. One of the most frequently said phrases to me personally was, “At least now your babies are in heaven with Jesus.” I completely understand where they’re coming from, and what they’re trying to do there. Two things struck me about this statement: One, I didn’t want that to be my personal motivation to go to heaven, and two, I didn’t want that to be the crux of hope for me. Obviously I want my babies to be in heaven; that is a beautiful, wonderful thing. But if that’s where my hope is, then I’m not looking at Jesus, I’m looking at the babies. I need to be careful not to do the same thing with my kids who are on earth with me. As biblical counselors, we would never counsel someone to put their hope in their kid, we’d counsel people to put their hope in Jesus. It’s no different with a miscarried baby than it is with my kids on earth. I need to trust Jesus with both of them, and it actually looks quite similar, we just have a tendency not to push people in that direction because it’s uncomfortable. But what’s always comfortable isn’t always most comforting.
Heath: So you’re saying regardless of the situation, first of all we call people to hope in Christ and not other important and precious comforts.
Rebekah: Absolutely. His character and his nature are the most consistent and absolute that we can bank on.
Heath: You counsel other women who have gone through miscarriages. But as one who had to walk through this yourself, the Lord was teaching you things. So what lessons did God teach you as you were going through this difficulty in your life and in your own marriage?
Rebekah: In James 1 it talks about being made complete, lacking in nothing, and that through trials and through suffering we are made complete. What I didn’t understand, and I still have a long way to go to understand, is that God uses our trials to help us understand his character in a deeper, fuller way. Now I knew that before, I counseled in that direction before. As biblical counselors we counsel God’s character and his nature. But the consistency and the perfection of his goodness is really where I dwelled. My miscarriages matter, but God’s goodness still reigns. So how do those two things coincide? That’s really where I set out to understand questions like: How is it that I feel like a walking coffin now, but God is still perfect in his goodness? How do those two things work out? So that’s really what I had to figure out in my own heart.
Heath: So would you say that in the midst of the really painful loss of miscarriage that you grew to love Christ more and that you grew in your ability to do wise and loving counseling ministry?
Rebekah: Absolutely. I think it’s a matter now of using and understanding of God’s character that propels me to worship when I see someone who’s pregnant. So the idea of life holds way more value to me than it did before I had a miscarriage. The idea that my friend at church could get pregnant and have five babies doesn’t make me upset. I worship because of that. It propels me to worship because he’s a God of life. And that’s no less true just because I had a miscarriage.
Heath: We talked about some really harmful, painful things that Christians can say to women who have lost children in miscarriage. Let’s turn the corner. Why don’t you talk to us as one who has experienced miscarriage and has had the opportunity to minister to those who have. Why don’t you help us understand some really helpful things that Christians might say to a woman and to her husband who are going through the pain of this loss.
Rebekah: We often talk about the bad things people say to us when we’re going through suffering. No one’s intending to hurt someone who has lost a child. First, if you are the woman who has just lost a child to miscarriage, know that when people say foolish things they’re not doing it with an intention to hurt you more. Having grace towards people was huge for me to learn. Understand that they’re just trying to help – they may not know and they may not be doing it well – but that is what they’re intending to do. So I think for the person who has had the miscarriage, understand and give grace to people who are at least trying to talk to you about it. Another thing that is incredibly important is be willing to ask questions. Be willing to understand how the mom is thinking about it. Ask her how she’s feeling about it, if she’s feeling about it, where those feelings are coming from, how she is believing, what she is believing from Scripture, if there is anything that she’s dwelling on, what are those thoughts that she has, when she goes to sleep at night is she dreaming things, what is she dreaming, what is she spending her time dwelling on. Don’t be afraid to ask her what those things are. It’s not so much the things to say, but more about being willing to ask questions and not being afraid to ask them.
Heath: 1 John 3:18 says, “Let us not love in word and in speech, but in deed and in truth.” And so a biblical response to miscarriage won’t just be words that we say, it will be things that we do. So help Christians understand some things that they could do to minister to people who are walking through this painful process.
Rebekah: The biggest thing, I think is being willing to ask questions. A week later, a month later, six months later, years later to understand how the mom is doing internally. Her thoughts, her affections, those kinds of things. Secondly, be willing to serve. Bring meals, babysit for them if they already have children, bring them coffee, go to the movies with them, be willing to do life. But more than anything don’t forget that it’s happened. I had friends that sent me flowers on the due date of the last miscarriage I had. It was amazing. I didn’t even know that they would have remembered that. I felt incredibly loved and incredibly known that they would have remembered months later to send me flowers on that day. And it was a beautiful reminder to me to deal with my heart if I had put it aside, and to come before the Lord and really spend time with him and feel loved and known by him in conjunction with that.
For more information about ministering to people who have experienced miscarriages, check out Rebekah Hannah’s breakout session Ministry to Suffering People After a Miscarriage.