I just finished reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken at the same time I read David and Bathsheba’s story of their own first child, who only lived seven days before dying as foretold by the prophet Nathan for David’s illicit with relationship with Bathsheba and ordering the death of her husband in battle. Both stories capture a view of grief we rarely see.
He [David] answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ [II Samuel 12:22, NIV]
For McCracken, the newborn infant, nicknamed Pudding, was their first and neither she nor her husband broke any laws or treated Pudding with anything but ultra care: the right foods, the right rest, the right attitude. It was a pregnancy made in heaven. But then, near the end of her last trimester, Pudding stopped moving, at least it seemed so to her. Many thought she might be overreacting (they were living in France at the time), and she was sent home. However, by the next day, her own concern pressed the issue and she sidestepped her midwife and went to the doctor’s office where it was discovered that the child was, indeed, dead but McCracken would still have to bear this lifeless child into the world. The depth of her pain and anguish are laced throughout this slim volume.
Back in the day, when I was still performing my one woman show, Pente, one of the women in that quintet was Bathsheba because her story is minimized in scripture; her grief and loss are summarized in the single line, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and made love to her . . . ” [vs 24a] but I believe McCracken’s tale captures a more realistic picture of a mother’s heart and the depth of her pain.
But getting back to my selected scripture, it is intriguing to me that David, who knew that he had sinned and who knew that Nathan was a formidable prophet whose words always came true, pressed into the 7-day period of prayer and fasting and, undoubtedly, deep confession. As long as the child lived, David did not give up even the slightest sliver of hope. David could not change what he had done but he could surrender his helplessness to God, who could still change the outcome. God’s outcome is never fixed in time. And yet . . .
The child died.
And David could do nothing more than surrender again.
We have choices beforehand, before the inevitable happens. But once tragedy strikes, whether deserved or undeserved, we only have our response to God. The pain is still there but can be muted if we wrap it into the embrace of God. Grace lives.