“Our experiences are not promises from God.” Rev. Michael Schuermann
“WWJD: What Would Joseph Do?”
It occurs to me that, as a husband, a father, and a pastor, I fulfill many of the same roles as St. Joseph. And yet, at the same time, my roles are nothing like his. I cannot imagine the situation of living with and taking to wife the Mother of God, let alone raising God Incarnate as my son.
St. Joseph is known as the Nutritor Domini, the Nourisher of our Lord. He was responsible for protecting and providing for the physical well-being of Jesus from the time of the Annunciation onward. This child was not his, and yet Joseph took on the legal and ethical burden. This is not unlike the vocation of a pastor toward his congregation. My people are not, strictly speaking, my people – they are the people of God, the children of our heavenly Father. And yet, they are mine because they are entrusted to me by that same Father. It is my charge to bring to birth, bathe, feed, teach, and nourish them in the faith, just as Joseph was charged with the same duties for our Lord Christ. I hold them as a trust from the Lord, to deal with them according to His command.
As a father, I am in much the same position. My children are my own – biologically, legally, and ethically speaking. And yet they are not mine. Although they come from my flesh, they are the children of God entrusted to me for only a lifetime. It is my vocation to bring them to birth, feed, bathe, clothe, house, and raise them in the fear of the Lord. They are a gift, a trust from the Lord. They are His, and finally I must surrender my will, my hopes and fears, my desires and wishes for them, and I must let His will be done for and to and through them.
To be married to the Mother of God is something I cannot fathom. I have no words to talk about that because it is truly extraordinary. However, I know the love that flows between a husband and wife. And I know the sacrifices and difficulties, as well as the triumphs and unspeakable joys, that happen in a marriage. There is something to be said about Rome’s idea that a priest is wedded to the Church. St. Paul speaks of the marriage relationship as a living icon of the relationship between Christ and His Church. It is my duty and privilege to stand before my wife and before my congregation as their Defender against evil. It is my vocation to provide them with all that they need to support their daily life. It is my privilege to speak to them, both privately and publicly, the Word of the Lord to forgive their sins and strengthen their faith. It is my duty to stand in the gap, between them and the evil forces of this world, to beat back the darkness with the Light of the World.
Lord God, our heavenly Father, thank you for the example of St. Joseph, the Guardian of our Lord and the Protector of the Church. Strengthen all faithful men to be guardians of Your people and defenders of the Faith as You have given to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Ryan McDermott
It is common for victims of assault to comfort themselves with illusions of control. For example, women who have been beaten or raped often find blame in themselves for the crime that was committed against them, because, as long as they are somehow at fault – as long as they are not truly victims of some terrible atrocity outside of their own control – then there is something they can do to keep it from happening again.
We comfort ourselves with illusions of control, as well. As long as there is something we can do to get pregnant – some dietary change or surgical procedure or herbal cocktail or adoption agency we can utilize to give ourselves the gift of a child – then we are not really barren. Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for all of the healthy foods, vitamin supplements, doctors, procedures, and foster care training I have utilized over the years, for they have offered me physical relief and instructed me in how to better care for my neighbor; however, none of these things have given me control over my parental status.
If we could really control our barrenness, don’t you think all of us would be parents, already?
Seeking control of our fertility is a chasing after the wind. Children, birthed or adopted, are a heritage from the LORD, a gift from Him to receive. Turn back to your Father in heaven and ask Him to give you all good things according to His will. Then, rejoice, for He is wise in His giving.
Question Submitted: I’ve been married for nearly 15 years. I have no biological children and desire so much to be pregnant and to have children. I am resistant to just giving up but also feel like a fool for hoping otherwise. My friends don’t understand, they just keep hoping for me. Am I just supposed to be barren? I am sadly and regretfully uncontent at this point. We are pursuing foster care and open to adoption but I want more. I want to hold that precious life to my breast after carrying it in my womb! I just ache and am hopeless!
He knows exactly what you’re going through. The Creator of the universe, the Triune God, knows and He hears your cries. He shows you this in His Holy Word, through the story of His servant, Job, who lived thousands of years before you. “Where then is my hope?!” Job called out, and God heard his hopelessness (Job 17:14). God sees your friends and the lack of support they seem to be giving you, just as He saw Job’s friends and heard his plea to them: “Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!” (Job 19:21).
“Though He slay me…” Job started to tell his friends, admitting again that God is in control of his life (Job 13:15), “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” Job knows he has no choice. It is God alone who can rescue him from his hopelessness. And what is it that Job realizes he should be hoping for? Does he hope for healing from his physical suffering? A restoration of his wealth? More children to comfort the loss of his family members? Yes, I’m sure he does, but these hopes are not what are revealed to us. The words we do have from him are universal. They apply to not just Job, but to you as well. And to me. This is one of God’s great gifts to us, these words that were written so very long ago, with us in mind:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).
The breasts that long to nurse, the womb that longs to carry–these are part of the “skin” that will eventually be “destroyed”. These maternal experiences, precious though I’m sure they are, pass away quickly. It is so easy to dream them into more than they are, to put our hope in being able to make them our own instead of hoping in the One who has made us His own, and “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). Yes, Christ did more, and still does more, than we could ever ask for, when He suffered and rose on our behalf to save our souls from being destroyed as well. And our bodies, thanks to this great Atonement, will be recreated and no longer broken as they are now.
King David was yet another biblical figure who wrote about hope. He knew what it was like to lose a child and, like you probably have done, asked the question, “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?” (Ps. 39:7). But by the power of the Holy Spirit he was able to immediately answer his own question: “My hope is in You.” He, too, worshiped the same Redeemer as Job and looked not so much to earthly deliverance from tragedy, but to his Savior for all eternity. His book of Psalms records the many things in which he placed his hope: God’s Word (Ps. 119:74), the Lord’s salvation (Ps. 119.166), the Lord’s steadfast love (Ps. 147:11). These do not pass away. Menopause or hysterectomies don’t remove them. They remain forever, for you.
The devil tries to make us feel guilty. He waves our sins in front of our faces in an attempt to make us despair, and, when that doesn’t work, he makes up fake laws to confuse and damn us.
You need to have a child, or your life isn’t blessed by God.
You need to foster and adopt a child, or you are not a Christian.
You need to adopt an embryo, or you are not showing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
You, you, you, you…
That’s what the devil does. He tries to get you to look in the mirror, not at Christ on the cross. He tries to get you to see a lost and condemned creature, not the righteous Christ Who was put upon you in your Baptism.
For, if he can get you to trust in the keeping of Pharisaical laws over Christ’s forgiveness of sinners, then you are damned and he has won.
I received an overwhelming response to yesterday’s post, many of which were emails and messages from caring, well-meaning people encouraging me and my husband to adopt a child. Many of you expressed a concern that we are using the fear of pain and the knowledge of sin as reasons/excuses not to adopt. In fact, so many of you responded this way that I realized I failed yesterday as a writer. I spent too much time describing the trees in the background of my landscape that I distracted you from noticing the flowering azalea in the very front of the picture.
Please, allow me to point out the azalea.
Gift language applies to adoption, not just to conception.
Children are a gift from God whether they are birthed or adopted into our families. God is always the One giving the gift of children, period, and He, in His loving wisdom, gives and doesn’t give this gift. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
My sinful grossness (as confessed and described in yesterday’s post) is not the reason my husband and I have not adopted a child. The reason we have not adopted a child is the same reason we have not conceived a child: God simply has not given us the gift of a child through such means. We hope for that gift every day, we try to remain open to God’s giving, and we pray that our Lord will continue to work His good and gracious will in our lives.
The intent of yesterday’s post was to comfort and offer empathy to the barren who desire adopted children but have not been given the gift of adopted children. My transparency was a clunky attempt at hugging those who sit on the receiving end of a big, fat “no” in the adoption process. It really does happen no matter how much these couples want a child, pray for a child, wait for a child, and keep trying to adopt a child. These barren brothers and sisters in Christ feel burdened by their self-perceived failure as well as others’ expectations for them to have children.
There is only Jesus for all of us, so let’s rejoice today with these couples in God’s perfect love and good will for them revealed in God’s Word and shown by Christ on the cross. Let’s join them in praying that God’s will be done for their families.
And, when given the opportunity, let’s use gift language – not “should” and “must” and “do” and “try” and other control language – when speaking to them about adoption. It will really help.
Thank you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for your love and prayers.
I used to think it was as simple as wanting to adopt, that the physical act of engaging the adoption process was all that was needed to get a child. After all, aren’t there orphans all around the world waiting to be placed in a loving home such as mine? That’s what the social workers, pamphlets, and websites tell me. It’s simple math, right? A homeless child + a couple with a home + some money = an adoptive family.
It wasn’t until my husband and I engaged the foster process ourselves and came up empty handed that we learned our wanting does not automatically equal our getting. You’d think that I, a barren woman, would already know such things; but, sometimes, even barren women forget that children- all children, adopted children included – are God’s gifts to give.
I have since learned of many other would-be adoptive parents who have yet to hear a “yes” from the Lord. You already know that Kristi and Rebecca waited years for their adopted children. Many of you are still waiting. Some of you have even abandoned the adoption process, still childless.
The truth is that God is faithful and just and wise, and He tells some of us “yes” and some of us “no.”
After living through the devastating “no” of our first attempt at local adoption (as well as two, additional, private adoptions which fell through), I am now gun-shy of adopting. I am afraid. I am afraid of opening my heart again to the hope of a child only to be crushed in the end. I am afraid of contractually and financially engaging an adoption agency during a political season when the government seems to be against me and what I believe about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in my own home. I am afraid of continually pushing my will to the front of the line when maybe my will is not what’s best for me or for an adoptive child.
Gilbert Meilaender offers this convicting instruction:
“[Adoption’s] principal aim must not be to provide children for those who want them but are unable to conceive them. If we think in that way – to the degree that we already think in that way – some of the dangers of assisted reproduction will lie near at hand: Potential adoptive parents will want not just a child to care for but the best child, a certain kind of child. The aim of adoption, by contrast, should be to serve and care for some of the neediest among us. It may, of course, also prove fulfilling for couples who have been unable to have biological children, and there is no reason to object if their interests and the interests of potential adoptive children should coincide. But adoption must remain an emergency measure, aimed chiefly at caring for children whose biological parents have not, cannot, or will not care for them.” (Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 2nd ed, 17-8)
Ultimately, after living with and reflecting on God’s “no” for several years, I am afraid of adopting for all the wrong reasons. Here is the ugly truth about me:
I want to adopt, not because I have a burning desire to care for the least in the world, but because I care so much about myself. I feel guilty for having plenty, and adoption is a sacrificial, shiny, good work that might temporally assuage my guilt. Deep down inside, I still want to work for my righteousness instead of trust that Christ has won it completely for me on the cross. If I just adopted a child, I might feel better…
I want to adopt, not because I want to serve my little neighbor in need, but because I want so badly to please everyone else in my life. I see how my barrenness hurts my family, my friends, and my church, and I want to make them all happy. They often ask me about children with hope in their voices and on their faces. I have not been able to give them a child through conception. If I just adopted a child, they might feel better…
I want to adopt, not because I want to give a child a home, but because I want a child in my home. I get so lonely sometimes. I want to snuggle and soothe and sing to a child at night. I want to cook macaroni-and-cheese, hang finger-painted masterpieces on my walls, and plan birthday parties during the day. I want to put a carseat in my Honda and take a child to the park, the state fair, music lessons, dance recitals, little league games, and confirmation classes. If I just adopted a child, I might hear someone call me, “Mama…”
I want to adopt, because I am a guilty sinner, a people pleaser, and a selfish barren woman. I am so gross.
Yet, even in my grossness, my husband and I still think of adopting. It is the question we ask ourselves every month, and every month, thus far, we come up with the same answer: not today. The green light we currently see before us seems to lead straight towards serving our neighbors in our church and in our community. Our hand continually hovers over our turn signal, but the left-turn arrow still shines a stubborn red.
In all of the questioning and the hovering and the waiting, it helps me to remember this comforting truth: whether my husband and I adopt a child or not, the Lamb of God covers my grossness with His precious, redeeming blood. Christ is my salvation. Only He can truly assuage my guilt. And only He can give me the gift of child.
Thy will, Lord, not mine.