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