notes from neverland
It's the week after Mother's Day. I have friends who lost their mothers this year, friends who miscarried, friends who are pregnant now, friends who are struggling with the day-to-day difficulties of raising children or dealing with their mothers.
I drove past an area church and the sign said "FREE FAMILY PORTRAIT AT MOTHER'S DAY SERVICE." I gritted my teeth. Churches shouldn't be this insensitive. If anything, churches should be more keenly aware than other institutions that most families don't have the kind of relationship that looks good in a portrait and not everyone is in an intact family unit to begin with.
The language you use to describe your church environment (any social or print media) can set the tone for how the discussion goes moving forward. This is why when you speak with a friend, you don't answer the questions for them: "how are you, good?"
Leave space for people to not be okay. Leave space for the people who aren't in families. Leave space for the families that don't fit the "everything's great!" mold. If the language is nuclear family-centric, you're leaving out never-married singles, those dealing with same-sex attraction, widows and widowers, couples struggling with infertility or miscarriage, divorcees, and single parents. This is a significant portion of the average congregation! The longer I go to church on my own, the more aware I am of how alienating this kind of language can be.
My pastor and his wife are caring, sensitive people, who check in on me, ask good questions, and treat me like a complete human being. But the LCMS at large views single people as somewhere between a commodity and a liability: you don't have family obligations, so you can be a pastor or a deaconess, or engage in other church work, but just until you can get married and start pumping out babies. If this isn't the path God has laid out for you, then there are no resources for you until you graduate from the lesser state you're in to "married with kids."
"You can't be completely sanctified until marriage." I've literally had people say this to me! First of all, we're not completely sanctified until the Resurrection. Secondly, while marriage and child-rearing may sanctify you faster, or along a different pathway, it is not inherently a BETTER KIND OF SANCTIFICATION than the kind I experience as a single person, or the kind a widow/widower/divorced person experiences. We can actively resist sanctification no matter our station in life. If marriage was the only route to complete sanctification, a lot of people would be screwed. Don't go putting these kinds of laws on people. Goodness, gracious.
I posted a photo a few weeks ago of a bulletin cover put out by CPH, the text being: "Love one another." Out of 20 stock photos, 16 depicted couples, 1 was a double date, and 3 were grandparents with grandchildren. There are more kinds of love within the family of Christ than this, and it's not representative of any congregation I've ever seen. Nuclear family life is the new holy orders in the LCMS. Luther, anyone? Vocation being more than just a few callings? Ha ha, wut. Idolatry of the nuclear family, treating marriage and child-rearing as higher callings than anything else you could be doing, is a real thing in many denominations, I just didn't expect the denomination with an ENTIRE DOCTRINE ABOUT THE GOODNESS AND RIGHTNESS OF ALL GOD-GIVEN VOCATIONS to be rife with it.
I want kids, I want a family, I always have. I don't know if having them is going to satisfy that hollow feeling in my stomach if it's going to soothe and quench the desire I have to nurture, comfort, feed, clothe. What if you spend your entire life aiming for something, only to find it unsatisfying when you get there? How do you keep moving forward towards that goal and not self-sabotage in order to keep the fantasy intact? What if the dissatisfaction isn't circumstantial, what if it's Sehnsucht, Ehrebung? 95% of my close friends are married with children, and I'm not blind: it's really, really hard. They too feel unfulfilled and unseen, but for different reasons.
I am still grappling with the fact that even if I get to have kids, I'm not going to able to fix everything all the time, still grappling with the fact that my codependency issues manifest in me playing Wendy to a rolling parade of Lost Boys. (LET ME TAKE CARE OF YOU!!!!!) I realized maybe a year ago that if you don't step up to play Wendy, someone else will. It's still tempting. Disaster management can become addictive. Maternal sympathies don't discriminate, so you have to. Sometimes you have to purposefully walk away from the hot mess that is tugging at your heartstrings if it's not in your vocation to address that hot mess. [I am not by any means advocating abandoning a God-given vocation to spouse or children. I am talking about steering clear of hot messes as a single lady who would just love to get completely embroiled in something that is not my problem BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE ME FEEL GOOD, BECAUSE I CAN FIX IT. That's not vocation, that's self-gratification.] In the end, it's a disservice to all parties: the hot messes resent your intrusion into their hot messiness, because they're perfectly happy there in their squalor, and you end up resentful that you weren't able to fix them. I know better. This is why people get dogs, but I can't afford a dog, so I'm writing this.
It takes 6 months to sing through the Psalms if you sing one a night. 6 months ago I wept my way through 126, 127, and 128. Those are brutal to sing when you're on your own. I hoped it would be easier this time - it's not. It's hard to trust; I wish it wasn't. Pray for me, I'll pray for you.