My job started diversity, inclusion and equity training. Part of this training includes the preparation to have difficult conversations. One of the tools we've learned to aid these conversations is using "and" statements instead of "but". This concept bucks against our tendency to compliment before passive-aggressively taking it back with a "but" statement. As a preacher, I have to admit switching "but" to "and" felt jarring.
Any preacher worth an "amen" has a good "but God" sermon. That sermon is as needed and trendy as a black dress in a woman's closet. It never goes out of style and if all else fails, it'll absolutely work for most occasions. You know the sermons - the reminder of all your problems, the rhythmic grammatical lesson punctuated by perfect pauses, as if the pastor is learning along with you, that the "but" negates everything said before it. Cue the organ and hand clapping as we rehearse our needed "but Gods" - but God is a healer,.. a deliverer, ...a miracle worker. It's fitting except when the "but God" can't fully erase the pain, frustration, and present reality of everything that came before it. Is there room in our faith for an "and"? Not an "and" that suggests doubt or an acceptance of defeat but an "and" that allows us to be honest with God and ourselves. An "and" that doesn't need everything before it negated but just needs to know that God is in the midst.
2020 has had its difficulties and its blessings. My son, Jordan, was born at the end of 2019, so this year had been spent raising him in unexpected conditions. My pregnancy with him was a rocky journey. He was a rainbow baby after a previous ectopic pregnancy and I thought everything would be smooth sailing this time. Unfortunately, I found myself pregnant and in the hospital on my way to emergency surgery again. This time was different because I had a healthy pregnancy and a failed one happening at the exact same time. The surgery needed to remove the ruptured ectopic pregnancy meant an increased risk of miscarrying. In trying to manage emotions, I would tell family and friends about the loss and quickly follow it up with "but I'm still pregnant." It made the news easier to give, and I assumed easier to swallow. I was giving the disclaimer not to worry about the second pregnancy I had lost; just focus on the "but". That "but" became unneeded pressure to move on when what I really needed was permission to feel and be comforted.
"And" is the weapon we need when "but" is hindering our ability to heal. The Bible does promise a morning of joy and still makes room for a night of weeping. The God of "and" is found throughout the scriptures. I needed a way to silence thoughts saying don't grieve those other loses, don't grieve what's been forever changed in your body, just focus on your "but'. I needed a prayer that confessed that I still grieve a lifetime of memories I didn't get to live and I am thankful for the gift of Jordan to our family. When I allow for my "and", I find a Savior that is concerned with my pain, a Christ as interested in knowing me in my suffering as he asks me to know him in his. I discover a God not offended by tears, questions, and wondering. A God of "and", "but" and some divine word spoken in holy tongues that translates into the space in between.
So I can remember what I've lost and remember what I'm still thankful for. I can hear the rhythmic heartbeat of God as he sits with me and pauses as we reason together an "and" that can hold struggle and faith, truth and hope. Cue the silence, pour the tears and rehearse the "and God" that my heart still needs. "And God" is present,...is caring,...is consoling and holding the morning until enough tears have been shed.