I have long been a fan of the idea “the dark night of the soul.” I have had enough of them to know their worth, though they’re never pleasant to go through. They always teach me something, and now here’s another one.
The story of Jacob in the Old Testament reveals a dark night of the soul for him. He had stolen his brother’s birthright, and now he was getting word of his brother’s approach. He felt guilty and defensive, and feared an assault on the life he had built with Rachel and Leah and their children. He sent gifts on ahead of himself, to butter up his older brother, in the hopes of avoiding conflict. He fretted and worried. He sent his family ahead of him as well, and he stayed alone at night. Through the night, he struggled with a “man” or angel. When the angel realized he couldn’t overpower Jacob, he touched the socket of his hip, dislocating it. He begged Jacob to let him go, because daylight was coming. “Not unless you bless me,” said Jacob.
I was surprised by how short this passage was in Genesis, when I went back to reread it. This scene has loomed large in my imagination for years, and it was odd that it’s so short. Because in this scene, everything changes for Jacob. The angel/man does bless him. He renames him Israel, the father of nations. Because he has “struggled with God with man and have prevailed.” And of course, Jacob is physically never the same, either. He limps away from that spot, and the Hebrews will never again eat the meat of that joint in an animal, in memory of Israel’s injury at the hands of the angel.
So, this isn’t just a Sunday school lesson, though it may sound like it. I haven’t read much from the Bible in years, though it used to be a nightly practice. But I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Avon, Colorado, and my uterus is rebelling. Very, very severe cramps, bleeding. My whole body aches. I could barely sleep last night. And I’d had only three hours of sleep the night before. It’s time to see a doctor. This has been going on for nearly three weeks now.
I have a condition called adenomyosis, similar to endometriosis in its symptoms. It’s when the uterine lining starts growing into the muscle of the uterus. Very, very painful. Even very high doses of ibuprofen can’t keep it completely at bay. I do what I have to do when I’m home, because I need to be present and available for Jack. But I’m alone now, and it is really, really hard.
I came up here for a getaway, a retreat. And I felt pretty well yesterday on the drive up here. I’m near Vail, and the mountains are beautiful. The aspens have started turning, so there are splashes of bright gold on the hillsides, along with the green of not-yet-turned trees, and the deeper green of the evergreens. But I feel so horrible this morning that I don’t feel like going out into this crystal blue September day to enjoy it. This is my dark night of the soul.
I have hung on to my uterus because we thought we wanted another child. Jack will be five in the spring, so it took us a while, but we’ve recently decided that more children will be just too much for us. Brian’s exact words were, “I might die.” We love Jack dearly, and he is such a sweet boy. But autism is not an easy thing for any of us to deal with. It’s so hard not to know why he starts crying in the middle of the night, sometimes. He can’t articulate his fears. If he hurts himself, he asks for a napkin. But he can’t say, “I hurt my head.” It’s hard, and it’s all we can do to keep going and make sure he has all he needs.
But here’s the thing. I’m an only child, and I grew up very lonely. I don’t want Jack to have that experience. It was awful. I have wanted a big family since I was old enough to talk about it. In kindergarten, I told my teacher I wanted three sets of twins, six children. I had no idea, of course, how harrowing that would be. I had no idea how hard it was to raise children until I in fact started raising one. It’s fricking hard. My hat goes off to parents of two or three or four or more kids. I don’t know how you do it. I honestly don’t. I fall into bed, exhausted, at Jack’s nap time, and sleep. Just so I’ll have the strength to handle dinner.
But my uterus is crying out for help. And I am for the first time considering the real possibility of a hysterectomy. And this grieves me far more than I can say. To give up even the possibility of more children is heartbreaking to me. Like Jacob, it’s a point of no return. I have tried hormonal therapy and alternative treatments. I will of course look at other options and choose what’s best for me. But even the idea of giving up my creative center has me in tears.
Other options include radical dietary changes and more exercise. I had a dream last night that I was running across a field at night, singing, “I don’t like to exercise. I don’t like to exercise. I don’t like to exercise. That’s why I’m fat!” Truer words were never sung in a dream before. I would be willing to make those changes to keep my body intact, of course, but I fear that I can’t do it, can’t stick with it, and that I’ll fail and end up with a hysterectomy, anyway.
Here’s where Jacob comes back in. The whole reason behind his dark night of the soul was because he feared retribution from his brother, Esau. Who I just now remember was his twin brother. He was so afraid of rejection, that he fought all night with an angel and never walked the same again. But he needn’t have worried at all. When Esau saw him coming, he ran to him and embraced him. They both wept. It was a beautiful reunion.