Friends, the World is Asking More From Us
Image: Mark Harrison (used with permission)
Well firstly, apologies for my recent silence! I’ve just returned from two trips abroad which required preparing 10 short video scripts and four keynote messages in a very short time frame which, along with life’s regular commitments, made for some long days. You’ll see the fruit of that work in the weeks to come, but if you want to, take a look at one of the videos we filmed here. I think it’s going to be a great series!
My return home has coincided with Fertility Week here in the UK, an important initiative raising awareness of infertility and childlessness. With significant support from the BBC, I’ve been on-air a bit talking about Merryn’s and my experience. If you’ve followed this blog or been an email subscriber for a while, that story might be known to you. If not, below you’ll get to read about a key moment in Merryn’s and my moving on.
It’s been eight years since Merryn and I started life as a childless couple, six years since our story was first told in Resurrection Year, with many people from all walks of life encountered since, and even a few newspaper shoots done (like above). Here’s what I know:
People with broken dreams like involuntary childlessness hunger for hope and deep community.
And there is much still to do to help them find it.
Churches, Let’s Do More
Image: Edwin Andrade (creative commons)
Let’s begin with this brief-but-full conversation I did with Dr Dawn Llewellyn of Chester University on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday program (starts 7 minutes in). While Merryn’s and my experience as a childless couple in church has been largely positive, Dawn’s research suggests this can be a rare experience:
- Childless couples struggle to fit in to churches that emphasise the nuclear family in their sermons, programs and small group structures
- Childless women find it particularly difficult when women’s activities often revolve around children. They don’t fit in the Mums-and-Toddlers group and are too young for the Senior Women’s group
- Childless men struggle too, especially in circles that emphasise ‘marrying and siring’ as the marker of ‘biblical’ manhood
Listeners made these comments afterwards:
Our experience is that the church doesn’t know what to do with childless couples. With such a strong emphasis on raising a Christian family, the expectation for a childless couple seems to be: a) if you can’t have kids you should adopt, or b) if you don’t want to have children there’s something wrong with you. —Kristie
After being part of a church that felt like an extended family, a regional move to another left me excluded because my husband didn’t attend church with me and because women weren’t encouraged to do anything more than teach Sunday School. It’s been a hard, lonely journey. —Ilka
We can do better here, friends. Let’s try developing:
- a bigger understanding of biblical ‘family’ (remember how Jesus defined who his family was?)
- a bigger understanding of masculinity and femininity (which scripture says less about than becoming Christ-like)
- a bigger understanding of vocation (especially for single and childless women who don’t or can’t fit the wife/mother expectation)
Let’s become the true community Jesus envisioned.
A community childless couples long to join.
|What Churches Can Do to Help Childless Couples. A 1-hour video Merryn and I took part in, helping church leaders think through the issues involved|
|Reaching Childless Men. An article I wrote for Christianity Today||Childlessness Cuts Men Up Too. Has more interviews and resources on the topic|
Because People Need a New Beginning
Image: Brooke Cagle (creative commons)
Let me take you now to another radio moment, this time on BBC Radio 2, where I got to share a key moment that helped Merryn and me walk forward as a childless couple. Here’s what listeners said afterwards:
Just WOW. That was super powerful…
We need to hear more stories of people surviving like this. A new beginning is out there…
This brought me to tears…
See how people hunger for hope?
See why creating truly inviting community is vital?
Here’s what I shared:
There’s No Moving On Without This
Imagine for a moment a car parked in a suburban street with its doors open and two women standing by. The car is packed full of baby stuff—a pram, a stroller, a highchair, a playpen, with bags of toys and clothes filling the spaces in between.
One of those women is my wife, Merryn. The other is my sister-in-law, Kristy, who runs a hand over her baby bump, gives Merryn a hug, then gets into the car. Seconds later she’s driven all that baby stuff away—stuff it took Merryn and me a decade to accumulate.
Christmas 2010 had been shaping up like no other for Merryn and me. Having spent ten years trying to start a family through IVF, special diets, a three-year wait on the Australian adoption list, and more—we’d been told we were pregnant. Finally we were having a child! Then on Christmas Eve Merryn got a call from the clinic. She listened, hung up, then curled into a foetal position. It had been a false-positive. With that, our dream of having a baby ended.
We were left with so many questions. Why do negligent people get kids while good people don’t? Why had God seemingly ignored our prayers? Eight years on, some of those questions remain. But our story has also moved on.
Because what we didn’t know then was that Merryn and I would soon leave Australia for a new adventure here. Merryn would get a dream job in Oxford. I would get to write about our experience. We would see our marriage strengthened, new friendships formed, and an unexpected vocation begin helping others start again from their own broken dreams. Purpose would emerge from our pain. We’d see God use our experience to bring hope to others.
Surprisingly, Merryn wasn’t sad watching Kristy drive that baby stuff away. She felt relief. Because there’d be no moving on without grieving, and no grieving without relinquishing the symbols of our loss. Letting go of the pram, highchair and baby clothes was the beginning of us starting again.
Secretly, quietly, many couples struggling to conceive fear their lives will be meaningless if they don’t. What Merryn and I discovered was that when the loss is properly grieved, and then placed in the hands of God, even a broken dream like this can instead become a new beginning.
|Resurrection Year: Turning Broken Dreams into New Beginnings. Our story told in full|
|The Making of Us: Who You Can Become When Life Doesn’t Go as Planned. Finding new identity and purpose after (and through) adversity|
|A Journey Through Broken Dreams. A short documentary film on our story|