discerningparenthood

Are you called to be a parent?

A Christmas Note

Christmas is a time of great joy, but it is also a time of great heartache for many people. I am glad to see more and more churches offering Blue Christmas or When Christmas Hurts services. It is important to acknowledge that God is with everyone regardless of where they are during this holiday season.

I want to take a moment to draw your attention to another group of people who struggle this season. With all the talk at Christmas of babies being born and children’s activities many who long for children find great pain. This includes many without children and others who have a child or two but long for more. They might struggle with infertility or feeling lost in the lengthy adoption process. Whatever the reason being reminded of others having babies and children can bring pain.

When you interact with family, friends, and other loved ones this holiday season, please refrain from making comments about them having children. First of all it is a very personal decision and more importantly they might be hiding great heartache.

Let us show God’s love this season by loving everyone exactly where they are and not bringing up where they are not.

If you are struggling with the focus on children this time of year, please reach out to a loved one and know that you are not the only one. I keep hearing more and more stories of men and women with similar stories. My prayers are with you.

Heather

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Seeking to be a grandparent

One of the hardest aspects of the reality of a choice and calling in parenthood is the desire to be grandparents. As I read up on my pregnancy, I could hardly believe the daughter I was carrying already had eggs that could be my grandchildren before the end of the first trimester. I found myself before even having my own children, dreaming of the day I would become a grandmother. Many men and women look with great eagerness to their children as they hit their 20’s and 30’s.

How do you be supportive of your own children while all the while desiring grandchildren? First remember that life is different now. You have sought the best for your children and brought them up to make wise choices, so continue to support them in their own life decisions. They now have opportunities to serve God and live in ways that were not available a few years ago.

At the same time they might not share about fertility issues. When a young person does not have children right away be aware there may be a biological reason that is causing them great emotional pain. I continue to hear of grandparent aged people commenting to young people about having children. All the while what they do not know is that they have miscarried or had fertility issues. At the same time many younger adults decided not to have children

So how do you express your desire to be a grandparent while accepting your children’s path in life. I would like to offer many of the same suggestions as my previous post to love and nurture children who are not your grandchildren. First seek out your extended family. Maybe your nieces or nephews would love to have additional “grandparents” in their children’s lives. Your faith community is a great place to start looking outside your family. I know of many young families who live far from their biological families. The idea of having “grandparents” who take special interest in their children is welcomed. Beyond extended families and faith communities, are organizations such as scouting or volunteering at a local elementary school that offer structured opportunities to nurture young children.

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Sharing God’s love for children without being a parent

Shaping the lives of children

So many people share Jesus’ love for children and desire to bless them. This desire and gift is not one that requires actual parenthood. There are an abundance of other ways to nurture God’s little creations.

One of the first places to look is within one’s extended family. Do you have nieces or nephews? What about young cousins? Each family has its own dynamics, but cultivating relationships with young relatives can bring great joy. Personally, I credit my grandmother’s aunts with a great deal. I never met them, but they were principals of schools in Chicago as my grandmother came of age. They helped finance her way through college and graduate school before most women had the opportunity to pursue higher education. They helped her to grow and become a strong, educated woman. I credit a lot of my desire to seek higher education with my grandmother’s experience. Here three generations in the future I reap the benefits of two aunts who helped nurture their nieces.

Another way to make a difference in children’s lives is to seek out the children of your friends. Speaking now as a mother, I love when my friends brighten up my kids’ days. By welcoming their children, you will not only have the opportunity to enhance their lives but also to grow your friendships.

Beyond family and close friends are many young children seeking to have positive adult influences in their lives. Become a part of a faith community. Most churches I know of would love to have more adults volunteering to help teach Sunday School or lead Youth Groups. I have had wonderful times with children and youth from my congregations. It is amazing the number of young people who desire to have adults take interest in them who are not their parents.

Finally, consider volunteering for a youth organization. Girl/Boy scouts, family shelters, Ronald McDonald houses, Big brothers/Big sisters are regularly looking for adults who can help nurture children. I know personally of some women who do not have any children of their own, but who have wonderful scouting children who they pour God’s love into.

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Beginning a conversation

Never before in history has parenthood been able to be such a choice. Throughout history one could choose marriage with children or celibacy without. The only ones who differed from this norm were those who had fertility issues. They would be without children and without many options. With current technologies it has become possible for many to become parents outside of traditional marriage. It is no longer necessary for a man and a woman to be intimate to be a parent. Now women can become pregnant through donors and men can hire surrogates. The state of adoption has also changed to be more open to nontraditional family structures. Now more than ever people find themselves with options and decisions to be made. Children are not needed to provide for old age. With proper retirement investments and senior care, extended families are not needed to care for the physical needs of people in old age.

Parenthood is now a choice and a calling. It can be chosen and decided as an individual or as part of a couple or extended family. This is one of the biggest decisions of most younger adults. As a priest doing premarital counseling, the issue of whether to have children has started to come up more each year. How does Christian faith shape the decision to become a parent? Many people are familiar with the call of God in Genesis to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. However, there are many scriptures that warn against young parents with children. In the New Testament Christians have an example of Jesus who chose his ministry, witness, and teaching over having children. At the same time he provides a wonderful example of being a father figure without fatherhood. He frequently called the children to come to him and used them as his examples in teaching.

The call to be a parent does not necessarily follow a love of children or desire to nurture them through life. The greatest example of this in my own life is presenting how my great aunts, whom I have never met, never had children of their own. They cared for and supported my grandmother and her sister throughout their lives including supporting my grandmother to receive a Master’s degree long before it was acceptable for women to receive degrees much less master’s degrees. Their influence on her life shaped her independence and desire to learn which has in turn had a great impact on my own life.
I hope the larger church would be more open to discuss how to be a person of faith in today’s society without assuming parenthood is the only option. It is possible to choose how and when to become a parent, but there are equally valid reasons to choose not to be a parent. How does the church support and encourage all expressions of parenthood and adulthood?
Societal influences bring their own challenge to making this personal decision. Many older people assume that as soon as you are married you should immediately start to try to have children. Personally, from the day I returned from my honeymoon I was asked if I was pregnant and watched to see if I would have a drink of alcohol. They knew I would not drink if I was pregnant.

Popular culture also plays a role in encouraging people to follow their dreams or work harder to have a career. This pressure leads many people to put off considering children until much later and sometimes it is too late biologically before a conscious decision is made. (My husband calls this decision by default.)

Many faith communities also pressure members to have children. Many traditional churches imply that the biblical ideal is marriage and children.
Genesis is probably the most often quoted scripture in support of having children. I think it is important to note that Adam and Eve did not procreate in the garden. It is after God “punished” Adam by forcing him out of the garden and “punished” Eve by saying she had to go with him.

Genesis 3: 23-4:2
“therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.’ Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.”

Many Christians look to the time in the garden as the “perfect” time when Adam and Eve walked with God. It is important to point out that this “perfect” time did not include children-either their birth or parenting. When debating God’s “ideal” for us, many look back to our earliest faith stories. If we look to this story, it seems that children were not part of it. Unless you see Adam and Eve as the “children” created and parented by God.
Jesus holds in tension the reality of loving children, but not being called to be a biological parent. Many people assume that if you love children it means you should be a parent. In actuality the two are not necessarily inclusive of each other. We do not have any evidence in the canonical books of the Bible that Jesus had biological children of his own. However, Jesus clearly highly valued their presence in his midst. In each of the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is a story of Jesus’ disciples not getting him again.

Each account tells of people bringing young/little children and infants to Jesus so that he would lay his hands on them. Jesus’ disciples tried to get people to stop. Jesus was way too important in deal with little kids. He had much more important things to do. In each account Jesus stops them “sternly,” saying “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” The kingdom of God, that elusive thing that Jesus’ disciples were called to seek first belonged to those they were pushing away.

Mark and Luke go further and have Jesus telling his disciples, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Not only did Jesus call us to welcome children in our midst, but to use them as an example of how we should act in order to enter his kingdom. Jesus is calling each of us to find ways to welcome children and to learn from them.

For some we do this by welcoming them into our families. For others we follow Jesus’ example of creating time and place to nurture and bless to children. To learn from them how to seek God’s kingdom. One does not exclude the other. We too can set aside time to be with children to bless them, pray for them, and learn from them. Jesus does not specify that this must take place through being a parent for he was not a parent himself. Loving children as Jesus does requires making the conscious effort to welcome them in our midst it does not require that we parent them in our homes.

Mother and Father of us all help us to see your will for our lives. Make clear to us your callings so that we may live faithfully for you throughout our days.
Almighty, we are your children. Teach us how to grow into your image that we may nurture others as you have nurtured us.

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A story of one to help in your own discernment

Here is the first in a series of personal stories of discernment written by different people. I hope these help others on their own journeys.

I have known since I was a small child that I wanted to be pregnant and have babies. When I was in middle school, I fantasized about a family of five children, gave them names, and picked clothes out of catalogues for them. So when I got engaged in the week before my 22nd birthday, it was with the understanding that once my fiancé and I were ready, we would have children. We even joked about the adventures our future family would go on, referring to the as-yet-unborn kids as the “HLCs” (short for Horrible Little Children).
But as we progressed toward our late twenties, finished our graduate degrees, and began to be able to contemplate owning furniture that didn’t come from our parents’ attics – things got complicated. It turned out that J, my husband, when he said “I plan to have children” at 20, had not actually meant “I feel an active desire to be a parent”; he had meant “I don’t really like or want children, but I assume that at some point that will change, plus I’m not aware that there is such a thing as a woman who doesn’t want children, so having kids is just a thing that will happen to me whether I like it or not.” As I grew more insistent on setting a time frame for beginning to try for a baby, the truth gradually came out, and we found ourselves at an impasse.
The next six months were extremely painful. I felt terrified and betrayed – as far as I was concerned, by changing the terms of the relationship, J was proposing to break his vows to me, not to mention denying me the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world. We had already been in counseling about a year previously, when the subject started to come up, and now we went back; but the question of whether or not to have children is the quintessential question on which it’s impossible to compromise. There was going to be, to some degree at least, a “winner” and a “loser” in this contest.
Although I did my level best to “fight fair,” I don’t think it’s possible to call our conversations around this question “discernment”. I was not listening for God’s voice with an open heart. I knew what I wanted and I was prepared to go to the mat to get it. Divorce was not an option (what if I never found another man and ended up as one of those horrible, desperate women, staring down the barrel of 40 with ovaries full of shriveling eggs?). Staying in a marriage with someone who was denying me the most basic of human desires was not an option either.
And so I threw at J every argument I could muster. I collected stories of people who had become parents reluctantly or accidentally and who had discovered joy in the experience. I promised that if only we had one child, I would leave it entirely up to him whether we ever had another. And eventually, J gave in, and decided to give it a shot.
There was no magic moment of post-birth bonding. J is a responsible parent who does his best, but it’s clear that his heart isn’t in it. And P’s birth did not heal, or even paper over, the fundamental cracks in our marriage; we separated when he was 3 ½, and divorced a few months later.
I still don’t really know how to evaluate my own behavior and decisions in those years. If a profound biological urge can be equated with God’s call, then God was certainly calling me to pregnancy and parenthood. J and I were just too young and clueless to get married when we did; we didn’t even know enough to know which conversations we should have been having. In not telling me his real feelings about kids before we got married, he lied by omission; in talking him into fatherhood that he didn’t feel ready for or called to, I denied his autonomous humanity and genuine sense of what was right for him.
And yet, although I’m certainly not the world’s most patient or joyful mother, I literally can’t imagine the world without my brilliant and adorable child (even when he drives me crazy). I suppose this shows how God can bring good out of even our messiest and most ambiguous actions and decisions. Mostly, though, my story is a cautionary tale: For God’s sake (literally), talk to your partner in detail about the decision of whether or not to have kids, before entering into any legally binding contracts.

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Be fruitful and multiply?

In the beginning of creation Genesis records God’s creation of humankind. God blesses them and tells them to “be fruitful and multiple, and fill the earth and subdue it.” This is probably the most quoted verse in support of having children. It appears as the first commandment in the Bible after creation. It would seem to be a cut and dry answer to all people. A few verses earlier God calls on the animals also to fill the earth. Our animal instinct to reproduce seems to fill these verses. Humans are called to subdue the earth and have dominion over all creatures. In one verse we are reminded that we are created by God and are like the animals, and at the same time we are to oversee all of them.

To “be fruitful and multiply” is necessary for a species to continue to exist, for God’s creation to continue. If we do not procreate, are we not supporting God’s continued creation? At the same time with being called to care for all of God’s creation should we not be aware of the overcrowding of the world through too many people. It is important to look at and examine the unintended consequences of our actions. When people try to “do good” often they end up reating harm as well. We are using God’s resources too greatly and there is not adequate food for so many. If we spend our money and our resources on our children, are we disobeying God’s second commandment to care for the earth. I think these verses can be used to support having children and to challenge it.

The other aspect of this passage that I think needs to be analyzed is how it is pulled out of a vast text to be quoted by itself. When a single verse is pulled out of the Bible and repeatedly shared, one has to be overly careful how it is used. Single biblical passages pulled out can have us abstaining from eating shrimp(a favorite of mine) and women from braiding hair. These two Biblical verses must be seen as part of a large and vast library.

What do you think? Is this passage a clear indication of God’s call for everyone to procreate? What are the added implications for these verses?

Genesis 1:27-28
So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

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No babies in the Garden of Eden

Genesis is probably the most often quoted scripture in support of having children. I think it is important to note that Adam and Eve did not procreate in the garden. It is after God “punished” Adam by forcing him out of the garden and “punished” Eve by saying she had to go with him.

Genesis 3: 23-4:2
therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.’ Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.

Many Christians look to the time in the garden as the “perfect” time when Adam and Eve walked with God. It is important to point out that this “perfect” time did not include children-either their birth or parenting. When debating God’s “ideal” for us, many look back to our earliest faith stories. If we look to this story, it seems that children were not part of it. Unless you see Adam and Eve as the “children” created and parented by God.

The assumption most make is that Adam and Eve were created as adults- no belly buttons. There is a conflicting theory that Adam and Eve noticed that they were naked when they had grown and become teenagers. Just as small children do not see any harm in being naked, so they were unaware of the idea of covering themselves. Part of the fall was becoming rebellious teenagers who now knew their bodies were different. The fall was in essence a coming of age story and as they were removed from the garden they knew their own sexuality for the first time.

Once Adam and Eve developed as sexual creatures they were kicked out of the garden. It is after the traditional “fall” that we are told they “knew” each other. (Biblical speak for having sex.) It is a whole other question of what does sex mean for us if it only comes after the fall.

The garden becomes more complicated and brings out more questions, the more the actual biblical text is studied. This is one of those cases previously mentioned where our Sunday School class as children is as far as most people go in studying what God is telling us.

 

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Considerations when studying the Bible- Part 1 moving beyond what we learned as children

I like to make sure that in discussing any issue in the Bible, including parenthood, we are aware of our assumptions. It is important to look at each biblical passage that directly or indirectly plays into our thoughts about what the Bible says. I think it also is critically important that we acknowledge what our culture in Christianity reads into the scripture verses what is actually stated in the Bible.

Too often a verse or two is taken apart from its context and given credit above and beyond the verses that come just before or just after it. Another too common way we study the Bible is by reading into the passage the “Sunday School message” that we remember learning way back when. Many Bible stories are simplified for children to learn the basic ideas. It is important when examining the Bible as an adult that we do not read into the scripture “what we learned in Sunday School Bible lessons”, but enter into each text to see what is truly written.

One of my favorite examples of this are my childrens’ books about Noah. These books emphasize the fun aspect of the story where lots of animals converged in an ark and everything ends with a rainbow. They leave out the rather troubling aspect of God causing a flood to wipe out(kill) most people in the world.

Another Biblical convergence that I enjoy pointing out is in the birth narratives of Jesus. We think of Christmas and see the image of a nativity scene complete with wise men and shepherds. I love to ask fellow Bible Studiers to read over the story of Baby Jesus in each Gospel. Upon further examination it quickly comes to light that Mark does not talk about Jesus at all until He is an adult. John only talks about baby Jesus as the image of word and light coming into the world. Matthew provides us with the star leading the wise men. It is only in Luke that we hear of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary and of angels announcing the birth to shepherds in the fields

I believe it is important to take the time to realize what assumptions you are bringing to a Biblical text and then to focus on what actually is written in the Bible. When we allow God to speak to us through the scripture, we are able to gain the confidence that God continues to use the Bible to shape our spiritual journeys and life decisions.

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Prayer to the Mother and Father of us all

Mother and Father of us all help us to see your will for our lives. Make clear to us your callings so that we may live faithfully for you throughout our days. Amen.

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A Word about Mother’s/Father’s Day

This is just a note to provide encouragement and sensitivity. Whether one follows a call by God to be a parent is a very personal matter. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be particularly hard for those who are not currently mother’s of father’s. Please share God’s love for all. Do not make comments to those who are not parents that they could be. Some are called by God to focus on other meaningful calls. Others may have been struggling for years with infertility, the expense and length of adoption processes, or not having a partner to share in parenthood. (In addition many have lost their parents or are estranged from their children, etc.)

I remember a Mother’s Day years ago when I was very single and had no plans of immediately being a parent. A young child came up to me at church and wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. (I assumed he was encouraged by his parents to do this for other women and did not realize I was not a mother.) I did not know what to do. This young boy was as much a mother as I was so I wished him a Happy Mother’s Day right back. Many years later I am a mother, but I still wished men a Happy Mother’s Day who had expressed similar good tidings to me. I smile as I write this and remember their funny expressions at my sharing the holiday spirit.

One of the points of working on this blog/project is to help people hear the Spirit of God and to act in love. Where God finds me this Mother’s Day is thankful to where I have been called and desiring to share God’s love to each person wherever they are. (One of the great things that Jesus did was to meet each person where they were in life and to share God’s great love.) Please be sensitive to each individual. We are all on different paths as we seek to be faithful to God with our lives.

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