For the childless this Mother's Day (and those who love them)

photoYou will forgive me if I did not turn to greet you this morning as the pastor instructed.

Part of me wanted to, but the other part heard the church leader greet you and your baby right before service.

"Your baby should be in the church dedication on Mother's Day!" he said.

You replied: "Actually, she has already been dedicated!"

And I gripped my belly, the pain of last week's surgery that closed my womb still smarting,

the emotional sear from the finality of my childlessness closing in.

And I tried to remember why I had come to church this morning, but it was hard to come up with anything. 

***

Funny enough, or perhaps not so funny, the entire sermon turned out to be on raising up the Next Generation.

It was an important sermon; I appreciated the way in which it was preached; I actually marveled a bit that the pastor addressed the childless in the congregation twice.

But the sermon did little to address the pain churling inside of me, a pain that cannot be tamped down by the drugs the doctor dutifully prescribed post-surgery.

I needed someone to identify with the suffering that came when the nurse said, happily: "Well, the most important thing to know is that she's not pregnant. That's good!" before the general anesthetic knocked me out for an hour or two.

It is finished. It is finished. This long journey is finished.

The End.

And, finally, I awoke again.

***

So when it came to church this morning, the only thing I could relate to at all was Communion.

This was his body broken for me, and his blood spilled out for me, and his death, looming, opened a gateway.

By his wounds we are healed, I am healed, somehow I will be healed.

Here was Jesus, 33 years of age, unmarried, childless, too; having finished the work the Father gave him to do;

and he said, "It is finished!" after bloody tears, and nakedness and scorn and tearing flesh and, worst of all: abandonment.

Yet in the middle of our under-way Redemption, he also cried out: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

***

"My God, why have you forsaken us?"

Wanting to create and give birth to life, wanting to follow in the Creator's footsteps, longing that leads to longing.

Monday morning dawned. Today, for the first time, I imagined the children that might have been ours.

It is quiet in this room and their faces match ours, and this dream passes before my eyes, swirling. And in the quiet Abba is here, too. What a saving grace, since I admit it can be hard to let another in. I have found he is one of the few who can bear with the childless in their unique grief—a grief for something that never was. The only way I know how to explain it is he is not uncomfortable or agitated or helpless in the face of my deep loss; somehow, he is just sitting here, with me, in the worst of it.

And the wounds of Jesus, still present in his body, feel present in this room.

He is the one who said, My God, why??? And yet he showed us there is hope in our wounds:

...as people of the resurrection, our promise is that our wounds will not and forever bleed us of our lives and our vitality. The promise of the resurrection is not the assurance of an easy, simple life without wounds, but a life in which our wounds, even if they define us, do not bleed us. The promise of the resurrection is that, eventually, after the bleeding stops, our wounds, while they won’t ever heal, might just begin to heal others. -"The Hope in Our Wounds: A Homily for Easter"

Dear childless one, I cannot, will not, try to minimize your wound. I cannot tell you that better things will fill it, or that all things work together for good, or carelessly, "Just think of how much freedom you have!"  So often well-intentioned words mock, and sometimes what is needed are not words but quiet understanding. Shared burden. "This hurts!" Shared tears.

But I can say, that in Jesus, we are Resurrection people. It may be that the new life we long to bear physically eludes us. There is no neat and tidy reason for this; it is part of the effects of sin and brokenness; it just is. Yet the new life of the Resurrection covers us, encircles us, winds us in its power and inclusiveness, its enoughness. And if Scripture is true, and I believe it is, he also gathers us under his wings like a mother hen, he quietly sings over us, he would never dream of leaving our side. Jesus tenderly whispers, "You are enough. I have made sure of this."

After all the "I'm-not-measuring-up feelings" that childlessness can bring, no matter how much we know differently, this Resurrection enoughness may be what is needed most. For the childless this Mother's Day—and for those who love them, too.

A few notes: Mother's Day in church opens a can of worms this post is not designed to explore. But know this: the Body is for your healing, and if you cannot experience that healing in your church body on Mother's Day, please worship elsewhere, maybe a walk through the woods or a bike ride. Do not add to your pain by placing burdens on yourself that are impossible to bear. Be as gentle as Jesus with yourself. You are God's Beloved, the one Jesus loves, and he delights in you just as you are. No pretending needed.

Motherhood does not make a woman more godly. See this recent post. We can be fully grounded in a theology that tells us we are complete, single or married, mothers or not. This is the Jesus way, most certainly. But some, if not many of us, will still grieve the loss of the life-giving function our Creator gave to his daughters. This is well and good, honest and necessary, and I live in this tension with gratefulness for a Savior who sees me as whole and longs to provide a place of healing in his community. I pray that the Church would be, would become, this place—especially as one in five women now find themselves childless.

A few more resources for churches: Loving the child-free people in your church and Dear Church: "What is a woman if she is not a mother?"