There are times I would rather avoid church. Times when to slip out during the peace seems a more dignified option than shattering into a thousand pieces on the floor in front of an alarmed looking congregation. Of course God is rarely interested in us being dignified, in fact being broken and bringing our brokenness to the Eucharist is what we are continually called to do.
The times I refer to are when we read the stories of women whom “God had closed their wombs”, times which are invariably followed by miraculous stories of said women, Hannah, Rachel etc praying really hard and hey presto having finally (in some way unknown to the rest of us) getting the magical formula just right, being blessed by God who according to Psalm 113:9 " maketh the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD."
Okay that’s a little simplistic and this is a tender issue for me… as a woman yet to be blessed (and yes I notice the language I use) with a child, I am profoundly aware of how motherhood is held up as a pinnacle of achievement for women not only in society but also in the church.
Such Bible stories read and talked too without sensitivity can leave one raw and exposed.
I remember sitting in Church when the reading and sermon were based on the story of Hannah. It was a bad week, I was trying to celebrate with one side of the family the news of a new baby (number four), whilst another part of my family grieved over the unlikelihood of them ever being grandparents (not having children never just impacts on you).
As the sermon began I glanced at the women around me. On one side a young women fighting cancer that had left her sterile, another grieving her last unsuccessful IVF treatment, whist on the other side sat one woman who’d adopted, with the last woman in our row for reasons much to tender to broach, too was without children. It felt at the time almost as though we had been made to sit together as examples of women who’d somehow 'let the side down'.
The sermon to those unaware of the impact of being without children, would have seemed totally acceptable with a feel good factor of 5. Yet aspects of the sermon left our row sitting rigid with guts twisted. At one point the women preaching shared how proud she was to be a woman, “how only a mother of five beautiful children and a grandmother of a further five children could know a true sense of accomplishment as a woman...”
After that I don’t recall much, the rest of the sermon was pretty much along the same lines. I do know that at that point there was much gentle touching of knees and hands in our row, and for me a deep sigh.
I have no doubt that if challenged the preacher would have been devastated at the impact of her words. This was not a conscious act on her part to cause distress.
On this day I watched as women around me measured themselves- however much they knew it was a futile act, against the story of Hannah. To weigh themselves in the balance and be found wanting.
Even I in a disserted Church later cried out to God “what more can I do, how much more do you want me to suffer, what more do you want from me, cos you’ve got it all ...”
In the end such thinking becomes damaging, one can get caught in a loop of:
“If I only do this…
Maybe if I hadn’t done that…
I am not good enough for God…
Am I being punished…?
I am unworthy…
Is my faith not strong enough…good enough…?
If I pray more…fast more…give more…
You can see where I am going with this.
Our prayer becomes a defilement and judgement of self, and in turn we risk projecting onto God an image of an angry fickle tyrant, who sits in judgement playing with our emotions and punishing on a whim. Not an image of God one would like to companion you through the dark night of the soul.
A God of love and compassion, who aches for relationship with us, and waits with infinite patience and expectation beside us, I don’t at such times always remember or indeed recognise. I said earlier that God is rarely interested in us being dignified, and that bringing our brokenness to the Eucharist is what we are continually called to do. And here we were this group of women all in pain, all for this moment (a moment that has never been repeated) in the same place at the same time. Able to, when pain struck, gently through the touching of knees the slipping of hands into hands, breathe and break together.
Such a moment of awareness does not however let us off the hook as Church.
I am in no way advocating that we do not honour and support women in our communities as mothers far from it! Or indeed women who by choice choose not to be mothers.
For me this is about:
being aware of our congregation,
of the impact of our words,
of how our experience colours how we interpret and share that word
to ask ourselves how as a church we interpret the role of women
how that interpretation of role is reflected in all that we do and are,
…and what happens to those who do not fit that role for what ever reason.
Recently I read a prayer written by Lynne Taylor of Opawa Baptist Church for mother’s day. I have included a link here to it because I see in her prayer she has looked at her congregation and sought to understand and honour the struggles and longings of the women of her congregation
I leave you after what has been a too long post with a request for your prayers for the women around you dealing with an as yet unfulfilled desire for children, and with an anonymous prayer from one of the 1 and a half million sites on the net that asking for prayers of women aching to be parents
Lord, Give me Strength...
To keep my cool when another period starts.
To keep my chin up when a co-worker announces her pregnancy.
To have a good relationship with my friend in spite of her ability to conceive easily and not be jealous of her.
To endure my sister-in-law's comments about toilet training.
To keep from crying when I see neglected children around me born of parents who find them a burden.
To forgive my doctor when he keeps me waiting for two hours for a consultation - and then can't remember my name.
To make the right decision about treatment.
To maintain a good relationship with my husband in spite of all this.
Not to scream at the well meaning person in my congregation when they ask yet again “Do you have children?”
To step back from fear when that question no longer is asked
To endure the vestry who always expects you to do things because "you don't have any Children to worry about".
To not fall apart if one more person asks, "Why don't you adopt?" Easy, right?
When I feel like avoiding friends who are pregnant or with newborns because you just can't handle the situation at that moment.
To not feel like I have to apologise to family for not fulfilling their dreams of the future.
To allow myself to reach out to those in my community and be vulnerable with those who are safe in my brokenness