A friend posted a link to a blog post this morning by a woman wrestling with the possibility that she and her husband may never have children. My heart hurt as I read it because I’ve been there, and I sort of wished I could hug her… except that I’ve been on the receiving end of a few “I’m so sorry you can’t have children that’s so horrible let me pray for you right now!” hugs from random strangers (at least two of whom then grabbed my stomach and prayed in foreign languages) and it’s awkward, to say the least. So I’ll resist the urge to hug her and simply say this: I get it. I’m sorry.
This is my favorite question. It skips right over the disappointments and life discrepancies (because from a certain vantage point life is just horribly unfair and doesn’t seem worth the effort) and puts people on equal ground, in the place where things get interesting. (And yes, I do think that here in nerdy Cambridge, Jesus could very well show up dressed as the Verizon guy.)
I thought of the question because the title of her post wasn’t “accepting our reality,” but rather, “Loving the child-free people in your church.” Holy overpriced strollers, is THAT a topic. My mind filled with a long list of recommendations, only one of which I’ll mention here (and then I’ll get back to my favorite question):
BEGIN RANT: If you run a church and want to love the child-free people amongst you, HIRE PEOPLE TO RUN YOUR KIDS MINISTRY! Pay them extra well! Because otherwise you end up doing that horrible thing I’ve seen at every church I’ve ever attended where someone stands up front on Sunday morning and describes how AWESOME and LIFE GIVING it is to spend your Sunday mornings babysitting, for free, down in the basement. They make a special pitch to “those of you who don’t have children of your own,” suggesting that God’s miraculous best for us may very well be found SERVING in this way.
I’ve never heard a church admit the truth, which I suspect is something like, “We are DESPERATE for volunteers to keep kids alive on Sunday mornings and as long as you try praying once or twice and don’t use God’s name as a swear word we’ll be ENDLESSLY grateful, and BTW, don’t worry about corralling little Jamal – he’s the one running laps around the room singing I’m too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts, or what to say when Lucy punches Jacob and then tells you, “I asked Jesus to live in my heart so he was right here by my boobies but then I burped him up…” If everyone is alive & not bleeding in two hours, you’re a rock star.” That would be nice. But no one says that.
Teaching kids is a big job – a calling. It’s not a burden to be foisted off on people who are already feeling like ill-fitting pegs in a sea of perfect square holes. If you want to love the child-free people in your church, cut some money from the coffee & donut budget and hire someone else to teach the children.
Okay, end of rant :) Back to my favorite question!
One of the ways a friend loved me when I first wandered into church looking for answers (and a life that felt worth the effort) was by asking me this question. She knew my job situation was nothing to brag about, and my romantic prospects were dim. Not to mention that I was, ahem, older than most of the singles in a church filled with cute 20-somethings, and divorced. There wasn’t a lot on the everyday front for us to chat about. So she leapfrogged right over all that mess and asked, “What is God talking to you about lately?”
I know this sounds awkward, but remember: she and I met IN CHURCH. I kind of knew that God might come up.
The first time she asked, I didn’t have an answer. I admitted that, and it was no big deal. I asked her the question and she shared some pretty cool (and hilarious) things. We became friends. Not because we had so much in common, but because we were both interested in this question. And since that day, I’ve spent a lot of time asking, “God, what ARE you talking to me about today?” I don’t always sense an answer, but it’s still a good conversation, both with God and with people.
So if you’re struggling to make conversation with someone whose life is totally different than yours, give it a try. Don’t succumb to the awkward default (as I have far too often) of asking about kids when you don’t know anything about school choices or how long babies should breastfeed, or someone’s job in finance when you took logic courses for math credit in college because you hate numbers. ESPECIALLY if you’re in church. Take a risk and ask the question you’re all, in some way or another, there to consider: “What is God talking to you about lately?” See what happens.