It’s the week of Mother’s Day. And it’s that time of year that the church struggles to know what to do with women who aren’t mothers in the traditional sense.
Pastors muse about, “Who gets a rose and who doesn’t?”
The church ladies are known to whisper: “What should we do since ___ doesn’t have kids?”
And, women without children can’t imagine feeling safe in worship services.
I recently did this interview over at Amateur Nester’s blog with two other pastors about expanding the conversation between infertility and the church. I wanted to share it again here because I think these words might be helpful to all of us struggling to be more sensitive to those who find this Sunday to be a very hard day. If you’d like to see the full post, you can read it over here.
Q. What do you say to people who are struggling with their faith during infertility?
EH: I [struggled] too. You are not alone. To live in a very fertile world and to have the desire to parent (which is a natural God-given desire) and then not be able to without a road of intense hardship is difficult. It is very easy to feel like God has abandoned you or forgot you. Or loves your pregnant friends more than you.
Don’t beat yourself up about these feelings. Be honest about them. Share your faith struggles with somebody who can handle them (and not everybody can!). Stay close to people who are dealing with pain, especially older women. Let them be your teachers even if they have never been through infertility or child loss themselves. Talk about suffering with them. Read the book of Job, even together. Let God be with you in the pain to the degree that this is possible for you. For, this will be your way out.
Q. What would you say to people who struggle with attending church during infertility because of the emphasis on family?
EH: Stay at home. Do something makes you feel good about yourself.
Last Mother’s Day, I was in between churches so I didn’t have to attend. Instead of going to services, I went to a class at the gym, ate lunch with a good friend and then took myself shopping for a Mother’s Day gift.
Q. How do you acknowledge or address infertility in your own congregation? How can pastors address infertility from the pulpit?
EH: When people ask me why I don’t have children, I tell them. Or in small groups of women if this is something that comes up, I share. But if they don’t, this isn’t something I keep to myself. If I’m a crying mess about my own heartbreak, I’m not doing my job as a pastor which is to shepherd and lead others.
I don’t believe it is the role of a pastor to “throw up” their struggles on the congregation. Rather, this is what counselors, friends and family members are for. In being a pastor that doesn’t share the ins-and-outs of my infertility with the congregations I’ve served, it has given me an outlet to remember that I’m not as much of a failure as my body makes me feel.
This does not mean that my own struggles with infertility and child loss have not enriched and informed my own preaching and teaching. For example, over the years, I’ve preached during Advent while going through IVF. I’ve lead a baby funeral after just having my own miscarriage. I’ve even preached on Easter when I was convinced God didn’t love me. These experiences have helped me be more in tune with where most people in the church are at one point or another: unsure of God’s presence and fighting to have some kind of faith. I believe my struggles with infertility have benefited my congregations, even if they didn’t know the specific reason.
Q. How can the church in general better serve infertile couples?
EH: The church can stop saying stupid stuff like, “Everything happens for a reason” or “If you just pray harder. . . “ or “In God’s time . . .” These clichés are of no help to infertile women, or anyone going through a time of intense suffering for that matter.
Pastors need to do a better job of creating a climate of authenticity in church life. I mean, everybody is going through something. It could be infertility. It could be something loss of a loved one. It could be anything. We need to be able to talk to each other and abide with each other through the good times and the bad. Pastors set the tone for this kind of communal life.
Q. Do you have any resources (books, websites, etc.) you recommend?
EH: The resources I have to share deal with a theology of suffering.
One of my favorite books on this topic is Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. She has a lot of powerful things to say about how the “dark” times of life aren’t necessarily bad or full of God’s judgment on us, but rather an opportunity to more fully understand who God is!
I’m also a fan of Richard Lischer’s book, Stations of the Heart. Dr. Lischer was one of my professors in seminary and lost his son to cancer while his wife was pregnant with her first child. It’s one of the most real books I’ve ever read on grief and the forms it takes.
And Anne Lamott’s book, Stitches: A Handbook of Meaning, Hope and Repair is one of the best books I’ve read about what it means to walk with another person through suffering. Anne Lamott simply tells it like it is!