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

IMG_0547Do you have one? A Father's Day game plan, that is. 

After posting "For the childless this Mother's Day (and those who love them)", I received heartening comments and understanding on Facebook, on the blog, on twitter—and most heartfelt, stories that arrived via private message. There are some things that are hard to speak of at all, and talking about pain in relation to Father's Day and Mother's Day is a potential minefield. (Ask Anne Lamott who wrote a post "Why I Hate Mother's Day." She said she got a wounded, angry response from half her facebook people.)

One year I preached in Sunday morning service on Mother's Day, and after the pleasantries, I said something like this: "Mother's Day is also hard for many of us for different reasons. Some of you have lost your mothers, others have difficult relationships with moms, or maybe you are like me—you long to be a mother yourself, but that hasn't happened for you." 

You could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium.

Then I reminded myself and the congregation of a God who promises he is close to the brokenhearted.

Years of infertility and dealing with childlessness have made me long to comfort those in deep pain of all kinds. I want to take down the church mask and say "hey, I see you" and "you are loved just as you are, with all the loss and pain and heartache and brokenness. Pull up a chair. This place exists for you."

So what I believe about church and these parenting holidays is this: I don't care where you attend, it would help if those who lead would acknowledge how difficult these days are for so many. Two or three sentences is all it would take, but to the hurting in your midst, those words can be a healing balm.

Not sure what to say? Try this and modify as needed:

Even as we celebrate parents today, we acknowledge that this day is filled with struggle for many. Some may already have cried this morning over a parent who has died. Others struggle with whether they are a good parent, while some haven't decided how they will interact with a parent with whom they are in a difficult relationship. Some long, almost more than anything, to be parents themselves. Or simply to be validated for where they are on their journey. And for each one, we pray and long that they would experience Church today as a place of safety and healing. No matter your situation, you are loved.

But until these acknowledgments become part and parcel of regular church on these parenting days, there are many of us who have to deal. Sometimes we will deal with the heartache for just a few years—for many, it will be a lifelong source of painful feelings hidden only to surface again on these memorable days.

So already my husband and I have talked a few times about our "Father's Day plan." For us, it goes something like this:

  • Go to the 8:30 a.m. early service where they will make the least fuss about the day and it is easy to slip in at the last minute and get out at the end.
  • If we're feeling up to it, make a trip to see the graves of my husband's mother and father who died a few years ago.
  • That evening, get together with our book club for a cookout—because it just feels good to have plans with friends on this difficult day.

This last week, I came across some writing in which the writer, a male, said something like this: "Infertility is one of the most horrible things that can happen to any human being." And it took my breath away to see it spelled out that way, especially from this man's perspective. My husband says that one of the things that hurts most on Father's Day is not having children who will carry on after him. He feels that he is judged for not being able to create a child—the impression that he does not have what it takes to do this.

Even as we experience the pain that can come with Father's Day, David and I also remind ourselves of a greater reality: Jesus, the one who came and lived and breathed and healed and served and died and rose again on our behalf did not have children of his own. In his Kingdom, it became clear early on that the spiritual family trumps the physical family. Blessed are the parents, of course, and those with parents to love...but more blessed are those who hear my word and obey it (Luke 11:28). Those who love and are loved, spreading the sweet aroma of relationships made possible not by bloodlines, but by the reconciling work of Jesus Christ. "Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:11).

And so, whatever you are feeling as this Father's Day approaches, I hope you know you are not alone. If you have lost your dad, your pain is real and you matter. If your father is distant or absent or abusive, I pray that you would know that you are enough and that you are worthy of dignity and extravagant love. If you would like children but are childless, this is a hard thing to bear, and I cling to the knowledge that God sees us. Either way, my hope for you is that you will enter and exit this Father's Day with glimmers of grace popping up, with mercy raining down in unexpected places, with clear reasons to love and to hope.

What about you? How will you handle this Sunday? What are some helpful ways to deal with pain on this sometimes  challenging day?

On #ReclaimingEve: “An important addition to the growing chorus of voices calling for women to live as God designed them to live, free and fulfilled.” -Jim Henderson, author, The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone?