RUTH at age 14 months
If you were to ask me what my greatest disappointment in life is, I wouldn't even have to think about it. My greatest sorrow is—and probably always will be—not having children.
I grew up in a family with its share of emotional problems, and I wanted to make things better for any children I might have. During my twenties, I went through therapy and worked on my emotional health to try to keep from passing on my family's destructive patterns. Yet, deep in the most secret corner of my heart, I feared that I could never be a mother because inevitably I would turn into the person I feared most.
So you can imagine how I felt when I finally had to accept the reality that my husband and I weren't going to have children. God was not going to heal our physical problems and provide a miraculous baby. My deepest fears had come true. In my heart of hearts, I was convinced that we weren't allowed to have a baby because I would have been a bad mother.
The people I shared my fear with told me I was wrong. My rector even said, "You might as well blame yourself for a cloudy day." My intellect agreed with them, but my heart still doubted. So I spent a great deal of energy and several years trying to figure out God's purpose for allowing this to happen. For a long time I told myself that it was because human beings are limited. I couldn't be everything I wanted to be: a loving wife, good mother, competent editor, and fiction writer, so God had to choose which role to deny me.
It still didn't feel good.
Then one day, our associate priest preached a sermon that hit home in a way nothing else had. She talked about the problem of pain and the problem of suffering. Because she herself is a cancer survivor, I could trust that she really believed what she was saying; it wasn't just some glib formula she learned in seminary. She said that people often try to explain away suffering by saying one of three things: 1) God is punishing us; 2) God is teaching us a lesson; or 3) God is putting us through this in service of some master plan. However, she doesn't believe any of those things. Obviously, we live in a world in which bad things happen, but God doesn't inflict them on us.
What God does do, Kate said, is offer to be with us in our pain. He wants to sit with us and love us when we're hurting.
That sermon broke my heart, but in a good way. I already believed that much of the pain and suffering in the world was due to human free will, and the rest comes from the fact that we live in a broken world. Kate's sermon gave me a much-needed reminder that bad things can happen without it being our fault. It freed me from the self-flagellation of trying to figure out what I had done or not done to cause our childlessness. It allowed me to say simply, "God, this hurts. Come sit with me while I weep."
This is one of the reasons why it means so much to me to have a God who chose to become human. He knows how it feels to be hungry, tired, ill, lonely, misunderstood, rejected, and abused, because he chose to experience all those things himself. And he even knows what it is like to be a human who will never have children.
I'm not sure the pain of being childless will ever completely leave me. At every new life stage, there are reminders. Whenever I see a niece get married or a nephew playing with his first child, I feel happiness tinged with pain. But at least I know I'm not alone. When it gets too bad, I only have to invite Jesus to come sit with me again.