Having lost precious children to miscarriage and a daughter, Libby, at birth, Katherine Gantlett shares how she stopped trying to escape the winter seasons of her life, and learned to walk with him authentically and honestly
After being married for a couple of years my husband and I decided we’d like to start a family. This was the beginning of a seven-year-long winter of loss. It took over a year for me to fall pregnant. Sadly this first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at eleven weeks. A year later I fell pregnant again. I carried this baby to term but tragically our baby – a daughter, Libby – was stillborn in July 2012.
I went on to experience three further miscarriages before we conceived our son, Charlie. Thanks to the amazing care and dedication of the medical staff looking after us, I was able to carry Charlie to full term and he was born safe and well in May 2015.
The winter of loss
Just as winter brings with it freezing cold weather, darkness and storms, our losses brought with them a mix of powerful emotions. From feeling the cold of loneliness as we grieved our losses while friends and family members all seemed to be having babies, to storms of anger. Then there were the floods caused by all the tears. Being a Christian there was also a sense of darkness stemming from the spiritual disorientation that all our losses caused.
Winter is a season where everything is stripped back. The Greek word apokálypsis, from which we get the word ‘apocalypse’, means an unveiling or uncovering of things that until now have been hidden. In this sense our winter season was apocalyptic. It uncovered the truth about how I thought about God. All our losses also revealed the truth about where I had mistakenly placed my identity.
Many people describe how pain and suffering cause a deconstruction of their faith. I understand this, but prefer to use the word renovation. In God’s hands, my season of loss lead to a renovation of the home that was my faith. My faith was stripped right back to its foundations – God’s love. One of the most precious gifts for me was the discovery of the contemplative stream of Christian spirituality, which prioritises being with God before doing for him.
I desperately wanted to know why everything was happening – so that I could stop it all and ‘fix’ the problem.I wanted to regain control over the chaos. However, rather than explanations from God, I needed an experience of him. Being held in his loving embrace helped me to change the question from “Why?” to “How?”: “How do I brave the elements of all the hard emotions? Instead of being diminished by all I’ve experienced, how can I grow even in the depths of winter?”
It is so tempting to go into hibernation, to numb the pain with whatever our ‘self-soothing’ strategy of choice is
Learning to lament
When faced with winter seasons, it is so tempting to go into hibernation, to numb the pain with whatever our ‘self-soothing’ strategy of choice is. For me, it’s a glass or two of wine. For others it might be food, watching rubbish on TV, drugs or the go-to numbing strategy of our culture – busyness. But grief doesn’t go away; it tends to come out sideways.
One of the practices I found most helpful was lament. Realising that it is an act of worship and that it’s the people in the Bible with the strongest faith who lament – David, Job, Jesus – gave me permission to do the same. I found psalms that gave words to so much of what I was feeling. Lament was a way that I could bring everything I was feeling to God and cry out to him to intervene.
Growing in the midst of winter seasons
Hard as it sounds, we need to stop looking trying to force the new life of spring in our own strength and instead embrace winter and all the beauty that this season has to offer us.
In fact, this is what Jesus says in The Message paraphrase of Luke 9:23: “Anyone who intends to come to me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it.”
If we want to grow through our winter seasons, we need to let go of all we have lost, surrender the broken pieces of our lives to Jesus and trust that he is the God of the great exchange. That he can bring new life from death, that he will give us beauty in exchange for ashes. Trusting the promise that winter won’t last forever; the season will change, spring will come.
HYGGE FOR THE HEARTBROKEN
Winter is a season of cosying up, reading great books, watching favourite films and sharing good food with friends and family. This is a practice the Danes call hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’, which is essentially the art of creating intimacy). Through practising hygge, Danes don’t endure winter; they embrace it. So, what are its essential ingredients?
The best place to practice hygge is in your home. Jesus promises us that he has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house. So hygge starts with abiding with Jesus, trusting him to lead us home. This means keeping our attention turned towards him.
Our words have power. Sung worship is a powerful way we can use words to light up the darkness and speak life and blessing into our situations.
There is beauty to be found even in the bleakest of winters. When we practise gratitude, we become more aware of God’s loving presence and his grace towards us.
The Bible is the ultimate comfort food. But, like the best meal, it needs savouring. Take your time, take bite-size morsels and chew them well to get all the goodness you can from them.
During winter we need the love of others to keep us warm. Cultivate intimate and deep friendships with people you trust enough to be open and honest with. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Grief is exhausting. What is it you do to relax and recharge? Prioritise time for these things.
Sharing our experiences of loss is the ultimate act of hospitality. It gives permission for others to be open about their losses. Think about how you can encourage others by sharing your experience of God in the middle of your winter season.
Katherine Gantlett is a writer and speaker. She studied theology at Westminster Theological Centre and has a PhD from the University of Oxford in HIV research.
Her book, Walking Through Winter (Instant Apostle) is available now. Find out more at katherinegantlett.org.uk