Letters to My Friend -

Thoughts On Unexpected Grief
and Being Childless

by Mary E. Stephens
May 17, 2020

Mother's Day was really hard this year. I knew it would be because of my mother going to heaven in March. It is so raw and fresh still in some ways. What I didn't expect was the grief I had that I don't have a mother here any more and that I am also not a mother.

After years of dealing with pain of not being a mother, I didn't expect that one to crop back up again. It isn't that I don't know how to deal with it, or that I don't know where to go for help with it. It's more like the feeling of, "Hey, wait. I thought I got off of this train at an earlier station. How did I get back on it?" Somehow losing my mom from this earth brought that old hurt back again.

Life surprises us sometimes. We think we know what to expect and then it isn't how we thought it would be. Grieving is something that has a way of surprising us repeatedly. It's hard to anticipate when or how it will crop up. Sometimes we are taken off guard by the things it brings with it - old griefs, guilt, anger, thankfulness, relief, exhaustion, peace, confusion, etc. It's hard to predict how it will affect us today.

I certainly didn't anticipate the old sorrow of being childless to recur. It has been awhile since I've felt that hurt.

Mother's Day is hard for a lot of people. Some of us chose not to go to church meetings on that day, and I'm sure we're judged for it by some. It isn't an easy thing to deal with being childless, it isn't easy dealing with the recent loss of one's mother. I know people who have to deal with memories of a bad mother. The thing I think we need to avoid is judging others for things that we either don't understand, or in areas that we feel they "ought" to be stronger.

Not everyone carries a load the same way. Watch people try to lift and carry an awkward load sometime. Some have strength and ease in carrying the same load that someone else struggles with. Just because one appears stronger than another doesn't mean that the apparently weaker person should be despised. Sometimes they are stronger in other areas. We don't see the whole picture and need to be careful about assumptions.

Something I think I have seldom mentioned in my writing is that my husband and I chose not to have children. The reason I've avoided that subject is probably self-evident: I expect judgment. There are a lot of people who think that having children is essential to having a "godly marriage." Some are more adamant about it than others. While some may simply look askance and harbor thoughts of "that was a bad choice," others would tell me that we are selfish, or even wicked, for this choice.

I knew a lady years ago who had a hysterectomy before she and her husband even got saved. After they became Christians they were visiting a Reformed church one Sunday and a deacon met them and welcomed them. In the process of getting their information he asked them if they had children. When they told him they did not, without finding out any details or knowing a thing about their history or lives, he informed them that they needed to have children. I realize those situations are probably rather rare, but I also know there are people out there who are not at all hesitant to make false assumptions and judge other people harshly for not having children.

Our reasons, though it isn't necessary for me to even share them, are related to the difficult combination of physical illness and the anxiety disorder that I was dealing with at the time we were married. I was also already 38, so we didn't have time to try to improve my health in time to make things work out well. Even so, we prayed consistently for guidance on this for some years, and ultimately it was always in the Lord's hands. He could have overruled our choice at any time, and He did not.

Some people would think that because we made a choice not to have children therefore it shouldn't have caused much grief or pain. For me this was not true. While I didn't struggle with the terrible burden of infertility and trying to conceive unsuccessfully, I have had some very hard times with grief over not having children. At times it has been crushing.

Over time, and with age, I became more settled with it and have been able to grow into a contentment that is usually undisturbed. Sometimes I actually feel quite well satisfied with this path the Lord took us down. But, as I learned this past Mother's Day, the ability of this to cause me pain is still there.

Why am I telling this story?

First, I want others to know that this happens. The journey of childlessness is never over till we leave this life. Finding contentment in this calling may never be "finished for good" on this earth. It may require further lessons. Yes, it may hurt less and be easier to deal with since you have developed tools that you know work. But, don't be shocked if some situation brings you a new lesson in contentment that you did not expect. And while I am speaking of not having children, this is something that I am sure applies to many areas where we have to learn to be content. It is attainable, but it is a learning process.

Philippians 4:11 ...for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Second, I want to remind you not to despise your sisters' burdens.

Galatians 6:2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

It is easy to judge someone else when they don't do the things we think they should. It is easy to think that someone else has "arrived" at some point where certain things don't affect them any more. We need to uphold each other in Christ. We need to show kindness when someone may be hurting, even if we think it is something they "shouldn't" be feeling. It's easy to forget that not everyone carries a burden in the same way. It's easy to let the cares of life and the things we are dealing with ourselves keep us from fulfilling the command to bear one another's burdens.

Hebrews 12:12-14 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

Another thing that can happen in this regard is that sometimes we're tempted to belittle someone else's burden or struggle. Women who have dealt with infertility may think that choosing not to have children isn't that painful. Women who have children are sometimes insensitive in the things they say to women who are struggling to have children. I have heard of comments being made like, "You're still young," "Be thankful you don't have to deal with that yet," and other equally inappropriate things. Women who have troubling and wayward children may think that the burden of not having children is a much lighter one than they are bearing themselves.

We need to show compassion. We need to strengthen one another in prayer and Christian love through these life trials, not belittle the suffering of our sisters in Christ because we somehow think their burden "shouldn't" be that heavy.

Matthew 18:33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

Lastly, please know that you are not alone.

Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

If you have felt a pain and sorrow that was a surprise to you, some other Christian somewhere is also feeling the same thing, or they have at some point.

1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it

There are no uncommon temptations. All temptation to discontentment is common. All temptation to think that "my sorrow is different from others and no one else knows how bad I feel" is also common. No, dear one, you are not alone. Others have felt pain like this. And the Lord Jesus has helped them through it. He will help you too. His heart is touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). He hasn't forgotten. He hasn't stopped looking. He is near. He hears. He cares. He loves you with more love and kindness than our poor human minds can even imagine. You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.

John 14:18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

background and graphics by Mary Stephens
vintage graphic: unknown source