Last week a reader emailed, to ask if I would write a post on involuntary childlessness. She said,
‘We as a Christian couple haven’t been able to have children, but not by choice… It’s not what we wanted but it’s where we are… I just want folks to think a bit!’
Glen and I have had some experience of this, but I wondered if anything I wrote would sound glib, given that we’ve now had Ruby and adopted a wee boy, (albeit at the end of many many years of waiting, and IVF). So Elaine has agreed to write a little about her experiences in this guest post.
Thanks sister; over to you:
The Forgotten People
“Since I was a small girl I have wanted to be married and be a mum. The process of finding the husband took longer than anticipated. I didn’t meet him until my early 30s and we married when I was 34. So we had a late start and even though we hoped, prayed and sought help we haven’t been able to have children.
For us this is a heartache and grief we carry always. There are very few places we can share this or find support.
It’s a painful journey to travel. As a couple we love each other and the Lord. But some days are tougher than others. Our constant feeling is that we’re alone and forgotten.
Think about Church life for a second. How full it is of family events and sermons on being parents. There are kid’s talks and mother’s groups. We have children’s pastors and youth leaders and family workers. Fellowship and conversation times focus on how well our children are doing and what a blessing they are. We celebrate Mother’s day and Father’s day, and make our Christmas and Easter celebrations focus on what we can do for families…
As a childless couple we have heard many unfortunate comments from those in church ministry. Lines like ‘Oh I thought you had chosen not to have children’. Or, ‘Are you sure you can’t have children and it’s not just you (looking at me, as I am naturally a glass half empty kinda girl) being negative?’ Then there’s the excruciating: ‘Aren’t you so lucky not to have kids? Now you have so much time/money/freedom!’ The presumption that we have extra — extra time, extra freedom — feels particularly painful. Because what we feel is what we lack.
So often we find we want to skip church events so we can avoid the children’s dedication/baptism. Another one feels just too much. On Mother’s day, family-focused services can be hard to endure. Those of us who haven’t experienced ‘God’s blessing’ can be left feeling ignored and forgotten.
I love children and love to see families and people come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. I agree that they are a blessing. But they are not the only sign of God’s love to us. I am armed with a sense of humour so can see the funny side in many places and I have a love relationship with my husband that is probably closer than it would be if we did have children. But it doesn’t stop some days being really tough. It doesn’t stop us feeling very alone, with no support or places to turn. We are often told ‘you can’t speak of such things in church’ or ‘Just think of Hannah or Sarah or someone else from the Bible. They couldn’t have children, and it all worked out for them.’
I think my plea to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whether in our churches or other organisations, is to remember us. Please consider how it might be to have a grief that doesn’t go away. (I know of no grief which truly disappears; it just changes and our knowledge and relationship with Jesus and our God grows and surrounds us).
As Christians we are called to be family. We are all different with different experiences, talents, challenges and trials, but we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. There are many many passages in the Bible, especially in Proverbs, were we are called to be careful of how we speak. We all do it. We all say things we wish we hadn’t but I sometimes think that as we are forgotten, people don’t even consider what they say might be hurtful.
So what would I say you can do to help?… Come alongside us, remember us, think in your next service what it might be like not to have children. Don’t be afraid to speak of us and if you’re not sure what to say, tell us! I find most people can forgive what we might say wrong, if we do it humbly and tentatively and acknowledge we don’t know what to say and are genuinely sorry if we get it wrong. Pray for us but pray we feel part of the church family for who we are and that we are loved as that. Allow us to talk about it, and consider what counselling/pastoring we may need.
There is no perfect solution of what to say and what not to say as it will depend at what stage we are on in the childlessness journey; and I imagine each individual and each couple will have their own needs with it. We aren’t promised it easy on our Christian walk. We know Christ promises to be with us but we also have to be reminded (me too) that we are all fellow travellers and sometimes we need to help each other.
I pray that we all learn the lesson to love one another as Christ loves us; if we do, what an amazing church that would be.”