I, Lizzie, a disciple of Jesus, called by God to preach good news to the spiritual misfit, the one who wrestles with God and the one who can’t stop the tears from falling. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank God for each one of you, for your faithfulness as you represent Jesus at home, at work, with your neighbours and walking the dog. I am in awe of this spectacular community we are a part of, a family not bound by biology or surnames but the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I appeal to you brothers and sisters because I have spoken with Christians across this country and as far as Australia and America who tell me of how they have fallen away from the church and sometimes from faith because they believe their grief, their singleness and their childlessness doesn’t belong in church.
Over the past few months I have become increasingly distressed by the reality that people are leaving church and abandoning faith in Jesus, not because they have turned to other religions but because the story they are living does not seem to fit in church.
I know those who have been told their childlessness is a result of past sin. I’ve met people who hide from congregation members who prophesied they would have a child in nine months and a year later they’re still not pregnant. There are people in church who have been told their pain is not legitimate, that there are far bigger problems in the world and they need to get over it. I know of people who book holidays over Mother’s day and Father’s day so they have an excuse to not go to church. I’ve overheard conversations in church declaring a couple should be pregnant by now because they’ve been married a while now and then seen them slip away to cry. I’ve also lost count of how many times I’ve heard people told to ‘just adopt’, when adoption was never designed as a solution for the childless, it’s a calling for the whole church.
adoption was never designed as a solution for the childless, it’s a calling for the whole church
I’ve also heard countless stories from men and women who feel left out, squeezed out of church life by leaders who talk more from the perspective of a parent than that of a disciple. Many childless Christians believe fullness of life is found within the context of marriage or parenthood because of the emphasis on nuclear family in their church communities, leaving them feeling worthless. Relying on earthly parenthood as the only illustration of the Father’s love is lazy and it tells the childless and orphan they will never be able to experience or express this love. Whilst Mother’s and Father’s day services have become more representative of Hallmark than the heart of God.
When Jesus was told his mother and brothers were waiting for him and he pointed to his disciples, saying ‘here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my mother and brother’ This same Christ we profess to follow also declared ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. The childless need you, they need the church to step up to Jesus’ description of family rather than giving into a definition that is so small and exclusive. You preach about idols, about money, sex and power but do you challenge the idolatry of marriage and children or do you encourage it?
The single rarely, if ever get over the pain of not getting married or having children. The childless can never leave behind the grief of never having their own family. Those going through tests and bad news and medical intervention represent a crisis of ethical and faith dilemmas no one talks about, they carry these life or death decisions in their hearts with them everyday, grieving the monthly cycle of another negative pregnancy test. These experiences affect their place in society, they are excluded, they are ignored, they are judged as selfish or their story deemed as ‘sad’, their lives are constantly undermined by the idol of family and romantic relationships, they are fearful of growing old with no one to care for them, ashamed of their inability to provide grandchildren, concerned of financial restrictions because they cannot depend on anyone else to help cover bills. They need you, they need their church to sit with them, to ask them how it feels, to cry with them and to include them and care for them.
They need you, they need their church to sit with them, to ask them how it feels, to cry with them and to include them and care for them.
Jesus sat with, listened to and wept with the grieving and yet somehow we’ve become so uncomfortable with struggle. Instead of allowing space for anger, instead of asking how it feels and sitting with people in their pain Christians have become experts at responding with clichés. ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’, ‘there’s a reason God did this’, ‘if you really loved Jesus you wouldn’t need a husband/wife/child’. You sound like the world – telling the grieving to hurry up and ‘get over’ their pain. Christianity does not offer a fast track through struggle nor neat answers able to resolve our deepest pain. Instead it offers the language to articulate suffering, the courage to feel it and the promise of redemption and joy when it’s embraced.
Christianity does not offer a fast track through struggle
You may not have explicitly said or done anything to exclude the childless. But silence is a far greater problem. I have searched and searched and there is nothing else out there that is able to speak into this grief, isolation and loss of purpose like the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message we possess is transformational, it took me from a bitter, lonely, church-avoider to a passionate evangelist because in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom I’ve learnt how to grieve and that my life as a childless woman is actually worth something.
The childless are in crisis. Childless Christians are leaving the church, wounded and lonely yet the Christian faith holds a unique message that can speak powerfully into this desperate crisis of identity and purpose and I believe it’s time for the church to say something.
I pray that the Holy Spirit would enable the church to equip our culture with everything it needs to deal with struggle, pain and grief because right now it’s not coping. I also pray, that in a world obsessed with who’s allowed in and who’s not, the church would welcome the refugee, orphan, childless, single, widowed and divorced into a family that isn’t just nice to them but one that adopts them as their own and that all the glory of this beautiful kingdom community would go to God.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen
Heartbreaking and achingly true. Thank you x
Hi Jill, thanks for your comment. Yes, unfortunately it is a sad reality but I believe the church has so much to offer and hope for change xx
Thank you so much. I felt like I was the only one.
Hi Wendy, you’re definitely not alone in this xxxxx
Thank you for your blog or was something that needed to be said.
Unfortunately there are many well meaning Christians that have done exactly what you have written. The sad truth is also in the world outside of Church, where all the support groups are focused on women.
Men that have been through the IUI IVF mill and have seen the devastating effects on their wives are mostly if not totally been forgotten, so have hidden their own pain and buried it deep within because only one at a time is able to express their grief while the other has to be strong and supportive……….etc, or in most cases drive the car home from the doctor or hospital.
Speaking as a man who is still childless, by the way, I still feel the loss of children as only another husband who has had to be supportive to his wife would understand.
I have learnt to be strong and I still be supportive to my wife, who is still devastated upon hearing the news of yet another pregnancy.
Your blog has been a great help, and I hope the churches listen.
May or lord and saviour Jesus Bless you
Hi Benzer, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing some of your story. I think you are so right, it is incredible difficult for guys an I don’t think many people consider the struggle they go through as it’s so silent and goes against that cultural expectation for men to be strong. There is definitely more need for the male story of childlessness to be spoken about. It’s so hard when the experience of infertility and miscarriage is so focused on the woman and needing the man to be strong when it affects both equally. It’s great you’re so aware of what your wife is going through and I pray that as you walk this journey together you will grow closer and continue to learn how share the depths of what’s on both your hearts. Thanks for your encouragement and yes, I also pray the churches listen. May God bless you to as you navigate this painful journey.
God bless you sister in Christ. God is calling His church to be Jesus in the midst of all that need Him, instead of the religious thing it’s become! Thank you for being the voice for the single & childless, who desperately need our love & compassion.
Hi Patricia, thanks so much for your comment and encouragement. I totally agree we need to be more Christlike in the way we care for people. I will continue to try to be that voice for the single and childless. With much love x
Dear Lizzie, thank you so much for sharing this – wonderfully written, and with such courageous vulnerability. Thank you so much for standing on behalf of so many people who are deeply neglected, people who are loved and precious to God, and thank you for inspiring others to step up and care better – this is such a gift!
Hi Elliot, thanks so much for your comment and your encouragement. I’m so glad it was well received and as you’ve written, I do hope it inspires others to step up and care better. Thanks again
Excellent piece. As a vicar and a single woman I have tried to make church, church services, and especially occasions like Mothering Sunday and Christmas more inclusive of those who don’t have family or children. It can be uphill work though, and I wouldn’t attend a Mothering Sunday service if I didn’t have to (now I don’t, what a relief!). I was once on retreat in a convent over the Lenten weekend which then commemorated both the Transfiguration and Mothering Sunday – I chose that weekend so I could avoid MS in the parish where I was then a curate. But no, the nuns’ chaplain ignored the Transfiguration and went for MS. Don’t know why, since the congregation consisted entirely of single women!
Hi Janet, thanks so much for your message and your encouragement. Yes, Mothering Sunday is so painful and often poorly handled. I’m so sorry even when you tried to escape it you ended up at a Mother’s Day service. Thanks once again for your comment with much love xx
Thanks Lizzie for explaining so eloquently why I have struggled to go to church in over a year. My experience of church as an infertile woman has left me so wounded and broken and it’s simply too painful to go anymore. The churches I have gone to are places for families and i simply can’t find where I fit in today’s church.
Hi Emily, thank you so much for your comment. I’m so glad you found this post helpful but I’m also sorry that church has been a painful place for you. It’s so difficult and painful to continue attending churches when you’re surrounded by a community who doesn’t seem to have any awareness of what you’re going through. I really hope that you know you are not alone and that your pain is legitimate. I also pray that there will be a church community that is understanding and aware of those who’s lives don’t look like the majority. I’m sorry for your pain and understand the constant struggle that is present. I hope you will know comfort and hope in your struggle. With much love xxx
Just a thought, but a good place to go if you don’t fit the “family type” standard demographic is a cathedral – there it’s easier to be single, gay and/or childless/child free, that type of thing.
Hi Emma thanks for your comment. Yes, the Cathedral can be a good option although it really depends on how people worship and I think it can sometimes be a bit harder to connect with a deeper community because of the transient nature of Cathedral congregations. However, I imagine for those who enjoy cathedral worship it probably is a lot less painful than other church contexts. Lots of love Lizzie x
Good day Lizzie. It is 2018 now and you’ve probably moves on from thinking about this article. Yet, you are still touching lives. I am using this in my Master’s dissertation as an example of how churches and church leaders should begin to think about infertility. I will cite you accordingly but I thank you for adding this to your blog. May the Lord bless your ministry. Natalia Strydom- South Africa.
Hi Natalia, thanks so much for your comment and your encouragement, although time has passed I think so much of what I wrote is still true. I think it’s fantastic that you’re writing about this for Master’s dissertation and I hope there is lots of fruit from your research. Thanks again. Love Lizzie x
Wow – thanks for articulating so clearly the thoughts that have been on my heart for some time. All too often, friends and family just give you the blank stare when you try to explain the pain and anguish of childlessness. People can’t relate and aren’t equipped to offer support and encouragement. Instead, all too often they just offer platitudes. Or even worse, they interpret your childlessness as some kind of wilful rebellion or selfishness on your part.
Thanks so much Eric. I totally agree that people just don’t know what to do or say in response to those who are childless and this can often be really painful to be on the receiving end. It feels almost like Western Christianity is a bit superstitious around the subject of infertility, declaring past family sin, rebellion etc which is so unhelpful. I think we just need to keep talking about what it’s really like for those who struggle and keep offering suggestions about how to respond well. Thanks again for your comment