Andy Bates and Sarah Gulseth of KFUO’s The Coffee Hour invited me to chat with them today about the gifts God gives and withholds. If you are still feeling raw from Mother’s Day, I hope you’ll have a listen.
I know you are tempted not to go to church tomorrow, but please do. Jesus wants to give you the gifts of His Word and Holy Supper there, and His gifts are far better than any old carnation or corsage or greeting card.
Yes, you may have to endure the awkward, faltering “Happy Moth– Oh, I’m sorry” greeting at the door, but you will be fine. Just remember how many times you have misspoken to people, and thank God that He forgives both you and them.
You may grow red-cheeked before the tongue-tied usher handing out carnations, but red looks good on you. The man understandably doesn’t know what to say in the face of your childlessness, so rejoice in his recognition of your plight. Graciously give him a polite smile and nod of the head, and move on for both of your sakes.
You may very well be shamed and shunned by the pastor’s preservice announcements, children’s message, and sermon anecdotes, but there are worse things to endure in this life. You know it is true, for you, with God’s help, have already endured them. Mother’s Day shenanigans in the Divine Service are nothing compared to the death of your children. This too shall pass.
You also may cry during the service, but you will not be the first nor the last to do so. The Church is made up of cross-bearing criers, and you have nothing to hide. No one will begrudge a barren woman tears on Mother’s Day. Just be prepared to grab the tissues that are passed your way, and welcome them as the gift of love that they are.
By all means, go to church so that you may pray these words:
Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will.
Go to church so that you may sing with all the people of God:
Lord, have mercy.
Go to church so that you may confess:
I believe in Jesus Christ…who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Go to church so that you can hear the prophet promise:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from your idols I will cleanse you (Ezekiel 36:25).
Go to church so that you can be exhorted by the apostle:
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10).
Go to church so that the evangelist may remind you of Christ’s command:
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12–13).
Go to church so that you may take and eat, take and drink:
For the forgiveness of your sins.
Go to church so that you may return thanks to the Lord for all His benefits to you:
He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy with shouts of thanksgiving. Alleluia, alleluia.
Go to church so that you may be blessed by God Himself through your pastor:
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and + give you peace.
Go to church so that you do not miss out on what really matters: receiving Christ’s gifts. Being thus refreshed, I think you will find that you can celebrate your sisters’ joys, and they, in turn, will learn to bear your burdens. This is what we do. Together. Even tomorrow.
Emmanuel Press and I have been working hard on a little project the last few months. It brings me great pleasure to share with you — Finally! — that we are collaborating with a host of experienced female writers to bring you a new book, He Restores My Soul, set to release in October of 2018.
He Restores My Soul is primarily a book of empathy and encouragement for the cross-bearing Christian woman. Utilizing the timeless, rich comfort permeating Psalm 23, each chapter applies the theology of the cross to a particular kind of suffering, pointing the reader to a firm faith in God’s promises and a resounding joy in His mysterious work of conforming us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).
Various topics addressed within the pages of He Restores My Soul include living the Christian faith in the public arena, carrying a child in the womb who is not expected to live, mothering while working, regretting an abortion, struggling against same-sex attraction, caring for aging parents, children leaving the faith, living with mental illness, suffering from depression and chronic diseases, and raising children apart from one’s own upbringing.
About Emmanuel Press
Established by Rev. Michael and Janet Frese in 2004, Emmanuel Press is a publishing house dedicated to producing works essential to confessional Lutheran theology, including theological books, liturgical and catechetical resources, and ecclesiastical greeting cards. Emmanuel Press brings together treasures of Christian literature, exceptional artwork, and a clear confession of faith. Learn more at www.emmanuelpress.us or contact directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends, something exciting is in the works. If you would like to be the first to know, subscribe to Emmanuel Press‘s email list. Stay tuned…
I was talking with my friend about adoption and the pain of not getting what you want and the guilt of not achieving what the world tells you others need and the sting of advanced maternal childlessness and the joy of knowing that God works all things for good and the peace of being forgiven in Christ Jesus of my covetousness and the blessed release that comes with trusting in God’s wise giving and not-giving of the gift of children when my friend put her hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said the most loving, encouraging thing:
“God is blessing you today.”
Not “your time is coming” or “it will soon work out for you” or “God will bless you someday with a child” or some other false promise or platitude.
No, my friend told me the truth from God’s Word that He is blessing me today, even in my barrenness.
And my faith, God’s precious gift to me, responded to that promise, and I rejoiced!
She waited in line for thirty minutes to get her book signed.
“I just want you to know,” she murmured, stepping to the front of the line and handing me her book, “that I understand. You know.”
I did know, and her empathy comforted me. I set down my pen and took her hand in mine. In that moment, I didn’t feel so alone in my barrenness.
“Though we were able to adopt.”
It’s only joy when a woman in her seventies tells me this. I know that she is neither trumpeting her gift nor exhorting my empty nest. She is simply telling her story, often after years of self-induced silence. “God be praised!” I smiled.
She shook her head swiftly, silencing my exuberance. “It didn’t turn out well.”
I staid my lips. I had heard similar stories from mothers across the country, but similarities are not what matter most in these moments. What matters most is listening to and bearing this particular mother’s pain.
“Twins. We adopted twins. One committed suicide–”
Lord, have mercy.
“–the other…well, the other doesn’t…visit us anymore.”
I felt her next words coming before they left her lips. I hear them often. They are the Song of Sarah.
“Maybe I wasn’t supposed to have children. Maybe I shouldn’t have pushed…you know…maybe God never wanted me to adopt.”
“That’s a lie from Satan.”
She pressed her lips together. “I know. But…”
“God gave you the gift of children through adoption. That’s the truth. You mothered the children God gave you. There’s no promise that any child — birthed or adopted — will turn out the way we expect. We love them and raise them in the Faith, because that is what God commands parents to do. That’s what you did. That’s all any of us can do.”
“We trust in the Lord’s mercy in all things.”
Me in my childlessness, and she in hers.
I signed her book, and we parted ways.
My mom does something really nice. She sits on the edge of the world with me, both literally and figuratively.
She, who is uncomfortable in high places, hikes to the cliff of my choice — usually the nearest, rough-hewn, dangerous place to which perpetual grief has pushed me — and shares my rock.
Those moments are un-rushed. We don’t talk much. We sit and look and listen and be. I sometimes meet a sob at the end of every breath, but other times my lungs are too busy handling the clean fragrance of juniper berries to bother with anything else.
But Barrenness, my tethered companion, is on that rock, too, and my mom knows it. She wisely never tries to push it over the ledge, for she knows it would take me with it. No, she let’s us both remain, and she stays with us for as long as we want to sit there.
My dad does something really nice, too. He sits with me until the pain goes away.
One summer afternoon my insides throbbed and twisted and turned with the force of a hurricane, and I sat doubled over in pain for hours. My dad led me out onto the front step — there was more privacy outside than in that day — and weathered every minute of the storm by my side. He never said a word but offered me his arm to squeeze through the violent gusts. He was my lighthouse and my harbor, a silent, unmoving, hopeful presence amidst the raging tempest.
My parents serve as masks of God to me in my suffering. They sit with me and wait with me and bear with me, preaching to me with their presence that God, indeed, sits with me and waits with me and bears with me in my suffering, too. They are icons of God’s promise never to leave me nor forsake me, beautiful illustrations of Emmanuel, “God with us.”
I try to remember this whenever I am given the opportunity to sit with someone else in her suffering.