Loving the child-free people in your church

Silence on my blog may or may not indicate a personal meltdown on this end of the computer screen. In this case, however, it does. There are many reasons a menagerie of losses have piled high and deep, making me imagine myself lying on the ground, loss after loss pressing down in a heap upon my chest, stealing the air I breathe. There are reasons, I tell you. Do you have a few hours?

But rather than dive into all of them, I'd like to highlight one that has laid me flat of late.

In the last several weeks,  the husband and I have begun to ask ourselves if we are being led to live a child-free existence.

We are wondering, as devoted followers of Jesus and passionate lovers of His Kingdom, can we be content with living without children? Should we be? Can we be? Will we be?   

[A moment of silence, please.]

Can we possibly let those questions sit for a minute without judgment, without comment, without somebody trying to rescue us from this deep pain? Can we, Church?

Because here is the reality, my friends: as far as I know, in 4 1/2 years of trying, I have never been pregnant. We are not comfortable with pursuing chemical fertility options. We have knocked on the domestic adoption door, we are waiting, but our agency doubts we will ever find a placement through them as we have entered year #2 on the list. We have been through the wringer, my friend, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Before you say it, I am aware that there are other options; I'm just not sure we're meant to try all of them to find a child. I'm not sure this is the best use of our time and money and energy in God's Kingdom. I think it could easily become an idol (and has been one), a way of grasping for control, of forcing God's hand. And we are just so very tired, to be honest. We are wondering at what point do we release this desire and trust that God will take care of us if we never have a child of our own?

In terms of Kingdom-gains, what might be on the other side of a child-free existence? 

Meanwhile, as it has become so painful for friends and family to walk with us through this, I offer these suggestions for those who want to be Jesus to people like us. I offer them humbly, as a gift, realizing they may not hit the target for every child-free individual you know. Still, I feel they could be a beautiful start.

Ways to love the child-free people in your church:

  • Assume nothing. Whether single or married, don't assume a person does or does not have children. (Or that they do or do not desire them.) Above all, do not approach them and ask first: "So, do you have kids?" Instead, "tell me about yourself" or "what brought you to our church?" or "what are your interests and hobbies?" or "how can I help welcome you into our church?" You assume these are awkward ways to get started, no? They are much less awkward than asking the kids question up front and having someone who has struggled with infertility and adoption for five years hear that you are most concerned not about her, but her parenting status. Because Jesus is not so concerned about parenting status, my friends. And neither should we be.
  • Let them know you see them. Child-free people often feel invisible, especially in the Church. In what can only be described as an odd theological leap, churches often glorify marriage and parenthood as the greatest Calling in life. Clearly, Jesus disagrees (as does Paul). The big, beautiful body of Christ is supposed to be our first family, and it's time we started acting like it. Take time to sit with those without children and ask them to tell their stories; honor their journey (and their anger or sadness, if they are experiencing it); include them in your body life; bear their burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Some of the kindest things ever said to me include these: "This is so hard, and I don't know how things will turn out, but I am standing with you in this. You can count on me." "How can I encourage you in this?" "This desire you have is a good desire from God. And I will faithfully pray for you in this."
  • Make room for them. Do you know how I felt when I went to a new church in a new city and was asked if I wanted to attend "Mom's Night Out"? As it was the only social opportunity for women at the time, I believe the woman who asked me was trying to include the newcomer. When I informed her I was not a mom and I asked if they had considered calling it "Ladies' Night Out" to include the childless women in the church, I was eventually told: "Sorry, that's just what we call it." I never attended—I did, however, immediately feel marginalized. Does your programming immediately ostracize the childless person in your midst? How about the weight of your Mother's Day and Father's Day observances? How does your Church observe community in a way that makes everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, the family with the quiver-full and the person who attends Church by themselves, feel that they are essential to the functioning of the big, beautiful body of Christ? In my humble opinion, how you answer that question can be a great indicator of the health of your church.

Meanwhile, we are still wondering, as devoted followers of Jesus and passionate lovers of His Kingdom, can we be content with living without children? Can we be? Will we be?

In this, will you pray for us, my friends? And, above all, if you pass us in Church or on facebook or the like, will you simply remind us that the Lord is here with us in this space, that you are here for us in this space, and that you aren't going anywhere?

This will be balm for the soul of this childless woman, I assure you.

It will be like drops of rain after a dry and dusty season.

It may even feel like sheer grace.

Welcome to the blog: hope you'll pull up a chair!

Anyone who's anyone is blogging. That's one of the very reasons I've been reluctant to do so. In the last five years alone I have:

  • gotten married
  • moved out of state
  • faced several years of infertility
  • turned 40
  • decided to pursue adoption
  • served as an interim pastor
  • led a Bible study for recovering addicts
  • coauthored a book
  • pursued a theology degree
  • weathered the loss of my husband's parents

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Look at your own life and you'll note: a lot can happen in five years. Along the way, I tried to blog but couldn't sustain it. My heart was all wrapped up in questions and quandaries, and I simply had no need to speak of these things publicly. Frankly, some of these things felt too terrible for words. 

And yet.

I've been through a refining fire that has transformed my heart, renewed my mind, and somehow, someway, shaped my theology to the point that I can tell you that God calls me His Beloved even if I never have a child, even if I don't find the perfect spot to exercise my calling, even if there are some things in the Bible I will never understand this side of eternity.

Here lately, with theology classes rumbling around in my head, and a heart scanning the horizon for God's beauty expressed through His World and His Word, I have longed to speak and write of these things too precious for words. So here we are, you and me. And here's what you can expect.

A place of longing, hope, careful biblical reflection, heart formation and transformation, and amidst it all, a search for the Beauty. I heard it this week in a child's laugh. I saw it last night on the face of a husband who is fighting for his wife's heart; I observed her fighting for his as well. I was reminded that God's promise-plan to Abraham, and likewise to us, reeks of the Beautiful. And that Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is overwhelmed by it, brimming over with Kingdom hope and rightly-ordered affections. Stick around very long, and you will see that I long to see His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I seek that my heart would agree with God's heart for all of His big, beautiful Creation. And lest there be any mistaking it, I long for each one God has created to be reconciled to Him through Jesus.

And so, a few notes on particulars. I'll follow weekly posts as much as I am able. Here's what they'll look like:

Barren Mondays & God Stories

How does one discover beauty and meaning when life appears to be stripped of hope and fruitfulness? How does a woman living out her infertility battle her brokenness to discover beauty? Tune in for true stories of inbreaking joy found through the laments of life—we'll be talking physical, emotional and spiritual barrenness and how God breaks through the dry and cracked soil of our broken places to bring new life.

When I served as a pastor, I would occasionally share "God Stories" with the congregation—that is, stories of the inbreaking of the Kingdom in our everyday lives and our everyday church. As stories occur in my life and the lives of those God puts in my path, I watch my theology grow, evolve and become grounded in a God whose goodness overshadows every pain and struggle we might face. Read the stories and remember that God is alive and active, restoring, renewing, and bringing hope in the most unlikely places.

Word-filled Wednesdays 

Sometimes the Bible surprises you, slaps you upside the head, knocks you over with intensity and begins to promise you more than you ever dreamed you could hope for. Welcome to the last five years of my life. Take a fresh look at God's Word and discover the freedom of  reading it for what it is, not for what we want it to be. Surprises await! Go ahead, drink deep.

Formation Fridays

What was lost will be found. Find grace in these disciplines that always felt like they were confining us, reining us in, keeping us in line. Instead, explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Formation Fridays are for you, dear one. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in. 

Aside from these scheduled conversations, I'm hoping you, the reader, will create ideas for conversations yet to be conceived. We are in this together, and together we will add to the Beauty that God intended from the beginning. Let's get this party started!