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A But Free World

This is actually an essay from over a year ago when my wife, Ginny, and I were struggling with infertility. As we wait for our son to be born, it has been redemptive for me to look back on this time. I am well aware that not every couple’s struggle with infertility ends so well. Peace be upon all those who wait … you have my support, no “buts” about it.

Recently, Ginny attended a mindfulness workshop with a rabbi. One of the things she took away from this experience was a profound idea relating to the Hebrew letter, vav. In order to explain, I have to slip in a little grammar-talk. Appended to a word as a prefix, vav functions as a conjunction, which denotes a relationship between two objects. The rabbi emphasized the vav was translated as “and.” She said she was trying to foster a world “free of buts.” After I heard this concept, I immediately snickered. (This mindfulness class must have been very mature to let that comment pass.) Then I protested: “But,” I cried, “Objects are not always in a relationship of positive conjunctions! Vav can function as an adversative conjunction! ‘But’ for vav is a totally valid translation!”

I admit that I tend to think in antitheses. “But” crops up quite a bit when I write or preach. But I am not alone; we Westerners have absorbed the concept of Hegelian synthesis as the result of two contrasting objects (thesis verses antithesis). But I’d maintain this is often to our advantage: weighing options is a good way to make decisions. In grammar-talk, the element introduced by the adversative conjunction usually qualifies the main clause. In other words, we make contrasts in order to decide what to do or which path to take. We think, I could do this but this would happen or I would write this but she would respond with that.

I remember, with more than a touch of bitter-sweetness, the naiveté I had regarding conception. I had thought of birth control like a water spout; once it was removed, there would be nothing to hold the pregnancy back! Out of this innocence/ignorance, I made plans. I said things like, “We could start our family this year, but it would be better to finish seminary.” “We could have a baby, but it makes more financial sense to buy a house.” Or more recently, “We could see a fertility specialist, but I think we just need to give it a little more time.” You see? I employed the adversative conjunction to qualify the idea of pregnancy as if I was in control. Now, I know better and this knowledge has cost the price of innocence. Yes, there is a weightiness to waiting … but (excuse me) and there is an element of waiting that relates to hope.

The Hebrew noun for hope (tikvah) is a lexical root of the verb, “waiting” (qavah). If condition of hope is derived from act of waiting, then maybe we could begin to weigh the value of waiting, even if we don’t like it. For instance, I think that waiting for my wife to become pregnant has made me a better spouse: I believe that I listen more and judge less. And I think that waiting to become a father has made me a better pastor: I believe I am more empathetic with people who share their longings with me. After all, what is a prayer request if not fundamentally an acknowledgement that, while we are not in control, we are invited to wait together?

The relationship between infertility and these positive outcomes is not an adversative conjunction, as if the desire of our hearts could be qualified. Let’s be clear, no “buts” about it: this waiting has been terrible, awful, no good, and very bad. My sister-in-law, Kelly, helpfully alerted us to a recent study that compared the stress of infertility to the impact of coping with the terminal illness of a loved one. The pain is that intense. Yes, this has been horribly difficult: and I have grown. And our marriage is stronger. And my faith is deeper and more complex. And we try to live in a “but free world.” The ups and the downs. The wait and the weight. Andrew and Ginny. And now, you. And for that, I am grateful.

To my friends and family, thank you for being in a positive conjunction with us through this difficult time. And for hoping while we wait.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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