The Sting of Separation
Minutes after my daughter was born, joy turned to panic as she was taken from her mother's arms to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The first days of our daughter's life were marked by the sting of separation.
Thank God her condition was not serious. She was having difficulties keeping her oxygen levels up and she needed a little assistance breathing. Praise God that after five days she was able to come join our family in our home.
Before I begin my reflection let me say how thankful I am that she was never in a serious life-threatening condition. Unlike so many other parents in the NICU, we were never afraid for our daughter's well-being and we knew it was just a matter of time until she would join us at home. Even having spent five days in the NICU, I still cannot imagine the depths of desperation parents must feel knowing their tiny child is fighting for his or her life. Nevertheless I did have an experience of separation from my daughter and I must reflect on this experience - as I should reflect on all experiences - in light of my faith.
I did not feel the pain and desperation of not knowing my daughter's fate, but I did feel the bitter sting of separation as I had to leave my daughter behind in the NICU and go home to the rest of my family. It was painful making choices between spending time with my two daughters at home and my daughter separated from us in the NICU. It has led me to reflect on God's separation from us as he awaits eternal union with us at home in the Heavenly Kingdom.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?
In many ways our stay here on earth is a lot like my daughter's stay in that NICU room. We were able to be close to her for short periods of time, though cuddling with her was made difficult by the cables and monitors that still tethered her to that hospital room. While those moments of holding our daughter close were precious, we wanted nothing more than for her to be with us permanently in our family's home.
Similarly, God has moments of closeness with us here on earth, though they are made imperfect by the tethers that still tie to this world. As I felt the sting of separation every time I walked out of that NICU room leaving my daughter behind, I imagined the sting of separation that God must feel knowing that we are not permanently and completely one with him in our heavenly home.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
When we were not with our daughter in the NICU, we were busy preparing her room in our home for her arrival. We prepared her crib, her changing table, her rocker, her dresser. We filled her dresser with adorable little outfits for her to wear. We stocked up on diapers and formula and bottles. We got her car seat buckled into the car so we can transport her safely. We prepared a place for her.
Jesus told us that he is preparing a place for us in his Father's house as well. In the Gospel of John when he suggests he will go and prepare a place for us, he does not say he is preparing this place so that we will be happy with the appearance of our room or so that we will be comfortable in our quarters. Rather, he explains he is going to take us there so where he is we also may be. Ultimately the preparations are about us being together with God forever. God is preparing a place for us in his home so the separation can come to an end.
Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.
As much as we wanted to bring our daughter home we understood that she was not yet ready for that experience. Her fragile lungs would have been overwhelmed. We may not be ready for the experience of being face to face with God and we still need time to be prepared. But we did not leave our daughter and simply hope for the best. We made interventions that would prepare her to join us in our home. We bathed her and washed everything around her to prevent infection and we provided her with oxygen and air flow to help her breath, with heat to help her maintain her temperature, and with IV fluids to nourish her. Neither does God leave us here on earth and simply hope for the best. God makes interventions in our lives that prepare us for union with him. We are bathed in the waters of baptism. We provided with oxygen from the Ruach to help us breath (and sometimes that air comes through Open Windows). We are warmed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. We are nourished with the body and blood of Christ. We are healed with the anointing oils. Sometimes God cuddles close with us and we are blessed with powerful experiences of his presence.
Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
Praise God that no matter how difficult it was for us to leave our daughter behind in the NICU, we were confident she would one day join us in our home. No matter how bitter the sting of separation from God may be, we can be confident that we will be united with him in that eternal home. In another sense, we were never really separated from our daughter. When we were not with her, there was a camera on her so we could see her. Our thoughts and our hearts with her always. God promised to be with us always. While in a sense we were always with her, nothing compares to having her in our home where we can hold her close. While God is always with us, our experience of his presence pales in comparison to the experience that awaits us when we leave our earthly hospital room and join God in the place he has prepared for us in his home, the place where we will be united with God forever.
In her book Where Two or Three are Gathered, Florence Caffrey Bourg wrote "What makes a family a domestic church is a habit of interpreting its ordinary life - for better or worse - as the means through which family members are to seek, know, and love the God made known in Jesus Christ." This is one example of how I interpreted an ordinary experience from life in my domestic church. Have you had a similar experience in your domestic church?