Question Submitted: How can I use gift language in the church?
There are many opportunities for pastors to start using gift language in the church. One pastor in Illinois recently suggested to me that he could begin talking with catechumens about how the presence of Sin in the world can affect their First Article gifts, including the gift of children. I think this is a wonderful idea, not to instill a fear of barrenness in our youth, but to anchor them in a theology of the cross which helps them better understand suffering when it comes to them, as well as how to understand the suffering of others.
Premarital counseling is another opportunity for a pastor to practice using gift language. A pastor can talk openly with couples about the fact that children are a gift to receive with thankfulness from the Lord, and he can also discuss with them what to do if God in His wisdom chooses not to grant them children. Rebecca suggested to me a couple of months ago that pastors could teach couples at this time how to make use of the catechism, hymnal, and Scripture in their home, so that they will continually be reminded of God’s promises for them in this life, whether parents or not. She also suggested that pastors use this time to teach couples how to pray, not just for a child, but for the contentment to live a life of service to Him on whatever path He may choose.
Whatever is in store for these couples, conversations like these will establish a relationship with the pastor which opens the door for them to come talk to him about all of the private and potentially embarrassing challenges that can arise in the struggle with barrenness. In preparation for such conversations, it is important that the pastor stay up-to-date on infertility medicine. He needs to be prepared to advise barren married couples on ethical issues surrounding certain procedures that break commandments of our Lord, as these couples may never hear such information from their doctors. Thankfully, resources like Lutherans for Life and LCMS World Relief and Human Care make this an easier task for all of us.
Mother’s Day, a secular holiday that has worked its way into our Sunday services, is another prime opportunity for using gift language. Pastors can remind their congregations every second Sunday in May to celebrate all of the women who serve as mothers in the church: godmothers, aunts, school teachers, babysitters, sewing circles, LWML, secretaries, altar guild, VBS bakers, and every woman who faithfully lives out her vocation in service to others. We don’t want to minimize or dismiss the love we have for the mothers who bore and raised us, but Mother’s Day is the perfect time to properly recognize that motherhood is a vocation given by God, not an achievement rewarded by men.
When I ask myself, a barren woman, what would be the best arena in which a pastor could teach his congregation to use gift language, I immediately think of a weekly Bible class. Maybe in between teaching classes on Romans and Ezekiel it would be helpful to include a study on the barren women of the Bible. Here’s why: I am an ignorant sheep. I need a pastor to tell me what the Bible says. When I look at the stories of Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth in the Bible, I can’t help but read into their stories some kind of theology of glory. Maybe if I pray as hard as Hannah did, maybe if I had more faith, God would reward me with a child? Praise be to God a pastor told me the good news that none of those women in the Bible conceived because they deserved it but because they are all a part of the story of Jesus coming into the world. In their stories, we find more than just the comfort of a God who gives barren women the gift of children. We find the comfort of a God who gives a barren, sinful world the gift of a Savior, Christ Jesus our Lord!