When Phil and I went through the medical procedure of conceiving our children, the doctor handed us a packet of photocopies with ART terminology, diagrams, and illustrations of human embryogenesis. The page I remember best had a drawing of the morula, a 16-cell, early-stage embryo. I remember it well because it looks like a blackberry (and gets its name from the mulberry).
After our first IVF attempt, we counted ourselves extremely lucky to have an extra handful of those berries to put on ice. (The correct terms are embryos and cryopreservation, but the image of berries in a freezer is more pleasing to my non-scientific imagination.)
It had taken some time, but we’d finally crossed the starting line to become parents. Grateful and thrilled, we had a baby girl several months later, born on her due date. Then, after a few years of getting the hang of parenting one child, it seemed like the right time to revisit our frozen berries.
As we’d hoped, most of the embryos survived the deep freeze. However, by the day of the scheduled procedure, only two were alive—still a pretty great number. The doctor implanted those last two survivors, and we waited.
Neither one lived.
We were abruptly done having kids. It was suddenly time to face reality: we had one miraculous child, and probably would have no more. Dazed and disappointed, we were finished.
Father James Martin writes, “So one day you say to yourself, with infinite sadness, ‘It’s over,’ or, ‘It is finished.’ Jesus is with you on this. We cannot be sure, but it’s reasonable to think that as he hung on the cross—abandoned, bereft, and in pain—he may have wondered what was going to happen to his disciples after his death. . . . Almost as difficult as the physical and spiritual pain is the pain of lost possibilities.” From Seven Last Words
How well I understand this phrase, the pain of lost possibilities. When we had embryos waiting, I held out hope. When it was suddenly over, I grieved their loss–as well as their lost potential. And for too long, I dwelled on what I couldn’t have.
“It is finished”: the sixth Last Word from the cross is so simple yet loaded with significance. Just the night before, Jesus had prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” not at all eager to endure the suffering that awaited him.
He might have said, “It’s not fair,” or “It’s not what I wanted,” or even “It’s not worth it.” Instead, he said, Father, it’s not my will but your will that I came to do.
Notably, Jesus’ statement can also be translated, “It is accomplished.” That is, at his last breath he’d finished his tasks. He must have felt both relieved and totally vulnerable. His arrest, the trial, the crucifixion—it all happened so fast. And now, it was over.
For Jesus, it was finished—already. (Let’s not rush to the sequel just yet.)
You and I–as long as we’re still breathing–we’re not finished. Don’t let anyone tell you the pain of lost possibilities is not real, but recognize that life has other possibilities in store. As long as we’re alive, God has work for us: loving, giving, helping, all the while burning off our despair as fuel for the mission.
Even when it seems to be over, it’s not over.