Every celebration amplifies someone else’s pain

For every flower of spring that blossoms forth from seed in fertile ground, God knows how many failed to come to life. God knows, but some others know this secret, too, in a more personal way.

There’s a hidden pain in church pews each spring as Easter bursts with praise of new birth from nature’s womb and death’s tomb. Our language of teeming life runs poetic. Images of propagating bunnies everywhere seem apt, until they’re not.

Those who suffer the disappointment of infertility, the grief of miscarriage, the agony of early childhood death, the longing for marriage and parenting, or the mixed regret and relief of abortion all live in the quiet shadow of these celebrations of life. Many of them inhabit our church pews Sunday by Sunday.

Doctors, support groups and friends often are helpful. An online community, called Project Pomegranate, offers helpful spiritual and practical encouragement to individuals, families and religious congregations. The Grief and Loss Center of North Texas stands at the ready, also.

In churches like mine that dedicate babies and in churches that christen them instead, tears fill the eyes of sentimental worshippers. There’s something about the innocence of an infant and the unqualified promise of a new life being held up before us that speaks of blessing. The world is blessed, the parents are blessed, the church is blessed, the child is blessed.

Some tears in the congregation, though, come from longing and loss. While talk of blessing surrounds every infant, does the lack of one suggest cursing? When we say that a child is a gift from God, do we also mean that being childless is a sign of God withholding a gift from some?

All religious rituals have an unspoken shadow side, and none more so than a baby dedication. A few times through the years, I have called attention to this by doing a childless dedication. I put the burp cloth on my shoulder as I normally do, and I walk around the church with arms shaped to hold an infant not present. I speak the pain of childless women and men (both!). I remind the church that flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God, and that the family of spirit is what endures eternally.

I ask church members to make promises to those among us who do not have children of their own, just as I ask them to make promises to those who do. The promises are different, but the aim is the same: that we would be a community of faith for all, and that we would be sensitive to the pain of some while we celebrate the joy of others.

We need to take care with our words and deeds toward those who suffer silently. We want to offer our blessing to them, too, and that without empty promises that their day will come or that God knows best or that we know how they feel when we really don’t.
Couples going through these experiences need all the understanding and support they can get. Yes, there may be medical solutions for some, and adoption may be a wonderful option for others. In time.

In the meantime, remember that love is sometimes best expressed by simply being present without the need to have an answer.