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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Can the Childless Fit in at Church? [ I'm Just Wondering ]

A moment of honesty.

This is a post I haven't written for years, not because it isn't part of our lives but precisely because it's a central truth in our lives.

We don't have children. And that wasn't our plan.

We stopped all birth control 12 years ago. We've seen doctors. We've gone through surgical treatment. We've read the stories of barrenness made whole in the Bible.

All of those things, but nothing has changed for us.

Yes, we could have spent money on more invasive fertility treatments but didn't feel that was right for us. The same is true for adoption.

It is our reality - and a very sad, brokenhearted reality that's becoming more so over time.

What is particularly difficult, and I don't understand why, is finding our place within American church culture.

  • We've seen churches (not ours) that structure all Bible study options based on where you are in the parenting cycle (newlywed, young families, parents of elementary, empty-nesters). [ It's not that they are trying to exclude or hurt those who don't fit the parenting cycle, it's just that they (unintentionally) communicate that they haven't thought about those who don't fit it. ]
  • We've been given unsolicited advice that "God can do anything" and "There are orphans around the world waiting for a family." [ 1) God can do anything but sometimes He chooses to do nothing and 2) The existence of orphans does not predicate what I as an individual should or should not do. ]
  • We've sat through Mother's and Father's Day services, coping with feelings of envy and loss as moms and dads are asked to stand and be recognized. [ I'd rather stay home those days. ]
  • We've puzzled over women's and men's ministry that focus primarily on the needs and interests of parents to the exclusion of women and men. [ And by the way...not all women love craft parties, listening to motivational speakers or can attend daytime Bible studies. ] 
  • We struggle with how to answer the inevitable question "How many children to you have?" and the inevitable pitying looks when we respond that we don't have any. [ Or worse...tell us your stories of how God finally provided a child or what doctor we should visit/book we should read/supplements we should take. ]
  • We feel insulted with well-meaning, but hurtful all the same, comments of "No kids - you must have so much free time!" [ Actually, we don't. God has given us fulfilling lives in nearly every area except within our church community. ]
  • We realize that nearly everyone that we would be friends with is busy raising kids (as they should be) and that can make us feel so very alone.

I know that these laments in many ways are a reflection of my own internal turmoil, and the awkwardness I feel is often caused by others not knowing what to say. I do give grace, but grace doesn't mean hurt isn't felt all the same.

So I wonder...

Can't we - shouldn't we - do better in the church?

How can we value and affirm the single who has never married, but not by choice? How can we engage the childless family (and statistics show that in the US that's 1 in 5 married couples)? How do we help and support single moms and dads? How do we join together in supporting traditional families?

There aren't easy answers, I know.

It just can be a very isolated life in the margins of church culture.

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