The Words I Could Not Pray

Post Author: Aubree Flickema

263253748_4dcad8bd02_zMy son was born on a sunny, beautiful day in September. I went into labor at 4am, and got up to make cookies, because I wanted to pass them out to the nurses. I told my husband to work from home that morning because after four days of false labor, I was pretty sure…cautiously sure…that this was the real thing. I stood in the kitchen and thought to myself, “I may be having a baby today!”

I puttered around the house, pausing in between contractions that were painful but manageable, and then suddenly, my labor went into hyper-drive, and I soon found myself on the bathroom floor yelling for Geoff, “I think I have to push!” We called the ambulance and I remember Geoff running around the house, grabbing my bag, throwing the cookies I had baked in there with everything else, but neglecting to put on socks because he couldn’t find any clean ones.

When my son was born he did not cry. The medical staff briefly showed him to me before they whisked him off to the NICU, leaving me in my hospital bed in complete shock. Would they bring him back? Would I get to have the skin-to-skin time that I had researched endlessly in the nine months of pregnancy? Would I be able to smell him, to breathe him in?

I sat in that bed for hours; my womb felt empty. Doctors and nurses and nurse practitioners came up to update me with information they somewhat…kind of…knew.

They wheeled me down a dark hallway and around a corner; my breath quickened and I began to shake. Preparing to meet my son for the first time, I felt as though I was about to go on a first date, like I was getting ready to walk down the aisle. I was about to meet my son, who at this point seemed more familiar to the doctors and nurses than to me.

Slowly, the gravity of the situation began to sink in. Grief for the thing that I had lost welled up in my heart. I sat in a wheelchair by his bedside, eyeing the tube down his throat as he silently cried. A kind nurse told me I could put my hand in his little fist and let him grab. He seemed so fragile, so breakable, and my body seemed so big. It seemed as though my body had damaged him. What if my body was contagious; what if it was cursed? I stood up from my wheelchair and the nurses kept telling me to sit down, they’d wheel me forward, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t stop looking at him, my beautiful boy crying silently, and I cried with him.

My head felt cloudy. The nurses kept reminding me to sit down. They told me to rest. They brought me water. One of the nurses asked if we were religious, and I said yes, and, “I’m a pastor.” I said it as though it meant something, as though bad things shouldn’t happen to pastors.

They called a chaplain for me, and when she entered the room, it felt as though we rested on common ground. I don’t even remember her name, but I sobbed into her coat as she stood quietly, holding me.

I felt so powerless.

I rarely find myself at a loss for words. I talk incessantly. I drive my husband crazy with all of the talking. I have words for everything, every emotion, every thought. I’m an external processor to the core of my very being. But that day, as I watched my baby hooked up to machines that filled the entire room, I had no words, and I wept into the coat of a person I’d never met. We stood over my child’s bed, and she prayed the words I could not pray.

A few weeks earlier, I’d read a devotional in which the author said that she prayed every day, “Lord, do something essential in my life today.” I remembered praying that prayer over the staff at my church, over the worship team I lead, over the young Marine who had just left for boot camp, over myself…but the day my son was born, the words came rushing back to me.

Every day after that, I prayed that prayer, because I didn’t know what else to pray.

Grief comes in unexpected ways. I never thought I’d sit silently on car rides, mulling over the millions of thoughts that entered my brain with each passing minute, too afraid to say them out loud, fearful that speaking them might make them come true. I never thought I’d wake up in the middle of the night crying out, “I don’t know how he smells, I don’t even know how my baby smells,” but that is what I did.

While I found myself struggling to find the right words to say, I learned more than I wanted to know about what not to say. I know now that sometimes, when you’re grieving, there are people who you just don’t want to talk to, even if it’s not their fault that they were able hold their baby on day one instead of day six. I know that sometimes, it’s easier to cry into the coat of a stranger than it is to cry with another person who is emotionally invested in the situation. I know that sometimes, it’s okay to be selfish, and I know that the people who supported me then are more important now than ever. I know that holding my baby in my arms, unattached to cords and monitors, will not give me back the nine days I didn’t get to hold him. And now I know, with my whole heart, that I need to give myself an extra an ounce of grace, and offer it to others, as well.

I don’t have any smart or reconciling words to share if you’ve walked the road I’ve walked, or if you’ve walked another road just as rough, but I can tell you this with confidence–grief isn’t wrong. The picture of perpetual happiness that society tries to sell us is just plain false. Life has brought me things that I never would have asked for, and that I would never wish upon anyone else.

In grief, I found grace in this–the God of the Universe took on our flesh and dwelt among us. He lived a life full of pain and rejection, and then suffered upon a cross and died for the sins of the world. This doesn’t erase our pain, but perhaps, if nothing else, it gives us permission to confess that we are not okay. It gives us permission to feel powerless and out of control, because the God who became flesh is doing something essential in us, even now. He is doing the thing that we cannot.


Aubree Flickema serves at an American Baptist university as dorm mama to 100 freshman girls, and actual mama to her favorite baby ever, Finn. She is currently finishing her Masters of Divinity and hopes to be ordained in the American Baptist Churches USA.

Image by: Skip Baney
Used with permission
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