The Empty Quiver

A friend of mine has a really, really wonderful blog that challenges me, encourages me, and makes me think – sometimes all at the same time, which is almost too much awesomeness for my little noggin to process.

*insert sound of baby rattle here as the noggin is shaken about…*

See?

Oh – the location of such wonder and awesomeness? I thought you’d never ask…

Suzanne Burden, short of stature, great in wisdom, profound in writing

She’ll promptly blush at the above description, but I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em. So there. Nyah nyah nyah.

I never claimed to be mature – just sincere.

Anyway, she and her beloved are wrestling with issues of infertility, wondering if the life of a childless couple is on their horizon. She describes the struggle on the aforementioned blog, asking how the church can better love those around us whose quivers are empty – through infertility, choice, or other issues, the couples around us that are childless.

So how do we reach out to them?

Frankly, in the body of Christ, being childless can make one feel as though they’ve been awarded second-class citizen status. After all, as I’ve heard both from the pulpit and at marriage seminars, the main point of marriage is to bring children into the world. That’s it. Period. Class dismissed.

*ahem*

My friend then asked for comments on her post, especially from guys of the male persuasion, of which I am one, although when I’m crocheting, some might raise an eyebrow, but really should get over it.

So…

My perspective isn’t really looking at the childless from the outside, but rather from the inside, since my beloved and I are one of “those” couples.

Why? How did we wind up with an empty quiver?

Although details aren’t really necessary for anybody who isn’t herself or myself, I will say that it was a combination of physical issues, and desire (or lack thereof).

My mom once went so far as to get up in my grill and ask how I could deny herself the thing that she so desperately wanted, to be a mother, as all could plainly see right on her face.

My beloved held up a hand and said, “Um… can I say something?”

And that was that.

As usual, my beloved and I were of one heart and mind. I don’t say that in any sort of prideful way – it astonishes me how closely the Lord fit us together from day one. Thirty-one years later, I can see why – the kind of challenges that were before us would have shattered us both if He hadn’t joined us so tightly together from the first day – to make us strong enough to stand together as one.

We simply never felt the desire, the compulsion, the leading to pursue having children. Nor the drive to pursue the path of trying to overcome infertility or other issues. Or the call to consider adoption or fostering. We honestly, truthfully, and openly didn’t feel that pursuit to be our path.

“How can that be,” I hear some scream, “since bringing children into the world is the sole purpose and responsibility of a married couple? It’s your first and most important duty!!”

Well, because our Father excels in working outside the lines and can’t really be contained by boxes or rules. Even His own, as we perceive them in our brokenness.

“Is He a tame lion?”

“Aslan? No, He’s not tame! But He’s good.”

Indeed.

(If you didn’t recognize that quote, it’s probably because I mangled it. Or because you haven’t read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. And if you haven’t, hang your head in shame, get your hiney in gear and go GIT a copy. Now go read it – THIS INSTANT!)

(Sorry to shout – but you really should have read that book at this point in your life. Actually, you really should have read all of the Chronicles of Narnia at this point in your life. And if you reply, “I’ve seen the movie,” “I’ve seen the BBC adaptations,” or “I’ve listened to the audio dramas,” but haven’t actually READ THE BOOKS, consider yourself slapped with a semi-soggy dog tail, and get thee to a library or bookstore POST HASTE!!)

(That semi-soggy dog tail was still attached to the dog, just for the record. Otherwise it’d be gross. And bad. And just plain wrong. Amen.)

(Yes, lest I be accused of pointing out a speck with a beam in my eyeball, I have read the books many, many times. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve seen the BBC adaptations, and I worked in radio when the audio dramas were released and they aired for the very first time. So yeah, my eye is beam-free.

At least at this moment. 

Don’t look a few seconds from now – I can’t promise anything.)

Now, back to what the HECK we were talking about…

“Selfishness!” would be the verdict from some. “It takes courage and selflessness to become parents. Obviously you are both more concerned with your own selfish desires and comforts than your responsibility as a married couple to raise children in the fear of the Lord. And obviously there is a huge gap in your walk with Jesus that you’ve never repented of.”

Or at least I can imagine such commentary, even if it’s never said to our faces. Or even behind our backs. Or anyplace else, for that matter.

Honestly, those comments all contain truth. Selflessness and courage are requirements for parents, even if those parents feel non-selfless and non-courageous. Frankly, I think the ones who get it right are the ones who are sure they don’t have what it takes to do it. His strength, our weakness after all.

But sometimes, maybe selflessness is realizing that parenthood isn’t your path. Courage could be following what you see as God’s leading for your marriage, even in a flood that seems to push the other way. Selfishness might be the act of going along with what’s expected, rather than painting a scarlet letter on your front and a bull’s-eye on your tushy.

Or that all might be a load of Cal-flavored hooey. I’m always the first to admit that, by the way…

As much as it might irk some and resonate with others, I honestly believe that one path does not fit all marriages. As strongly as I would defend the path we took, trying humbly to follow our Father (which is the first and most important requirement), I would defend the path of the couple going through hell on earth to overcome infertility issues, or the tortuous ups and downs in pursuit of adoption or being foster parents. In humbly following God’s leading, their paths are as valid as ours.

Or ours is as valid as theirs, putting a different angle on it.

So in our life of faith, within the body of Christ, where does that put us, as a couple sans children? How are we treated? How do we feel? Do we avoid Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Sundays like the plague? Are we blacklisted because we don’t bring little ones along to the gathering to play with all the other little ones? Does this one thing we don’t have in common with most around us raise a gulf that isolates us forever from fellowship?

(And every time I refer to Beka as our doggie daughter, with herself and I playing the roles of doggie daddy and doggie momma, do I deserve a wet slap in the face with a live badger?

I know of someone who would answer a hearty “Yea, verily” to that. And he’s welcome to his opinion – I’ve got enough Beka exhaust in the backyard to return any volleys he sends in my direction.)

Anyway, does being childless in a church teeming with full quivers make us feel like pork chops at a kosher wedding?

Yes, sometimes.

But not always. And not intentionally.

Truly, though – how could it not? In any given church, one of the great commonalities is rearing the kiddos. Every time a child is dedicated in our church, we are reminded that all of us, the whole congregation, take a part in standing alongside the parents and bringing up the children to know God’s love, and in His time, to respond to His love in Jesus Christ. Rearing the kiddos is a big part of the whole life-as-His-body gig.

(If it wasn’t, there’d only be old people to play the shepherds and wise guys and others in the Christmas pageant. And that’d be sad indeed. I’d make a weird shepherd…)

If it weren’t for bunny trails, I’d probably never write anything. Really.

*Cue the enraged villagers with the torches and the pitchforks chanting “DEATH TO BUNNY TRAILS!!!”*

Back to the topic at hand. Or foot. Someplace like that…

Does being a childless couple make us feel isolated, separated, or excluded from being a part of the church?

I suppose it could, if we let it. Easier said than done, and easier after year 31 than years 1-5. Time tends to make it that way.

We usually answer the “any kids?” question with a smile and “Only a 4-legged one.” And can also mention the many niecelets and neffypoohs we’ve accumulated along the way. We may not be parents, but that doesn’t stop us from being a semi-decent Aunt & Uncle, who love their nieces (and neffypoohs) to pieces.

(Three of our niecelets have been told since their itty bitty years to refer to me as Weird Uncle Cal. I figure somebody in the family has to wear that title, so it might as well be me.

I’ve also threatened to have myself stuffed when I shuffle off this mortal coil, so that they have to pass me around like the yearly white elephant Christmas gift. Or perhaps have my ashes put into a teddy bear or a sock monkey – perhaps an evil sock monkey with fangs – to totally freak out one of my neffypoohs in particular.

I can hear the joyous Yuletide conversation…

“It’s YOUR year to take Uncle Cal!” “Heck NO, I had him last year!” “No you didn’t – you left him sitting on your porch!” “Hey – that counts!!”

Hee hee hee hee)

Bunny trails. Love ’em.

As for some of the other potential places we could get gobsmacked, living the existence of empty nesters without the grandchildren therein, I guess I’ve always seen it as more a case of what I make of it, not what’s being projected onto me. (Or expected of me…)

I don’t think anyone in our church would go into something thinking, “We’ll want to be careful around the Olsons, since they’re one of ‘those’ couples.” And, at least from my point of view, I wouldn’t want them to have to. I’m aware of our empty quiver, and I’m aware that much of our church life revolves around family units where the quivers are full, so things will always be slanted in that direction. And that’s alright – We’re capable of applying filters and screening out any unintentional offense, at least after 30+ years of marriage.

But I’m also a guy, so perhaps my waters don’t run deep enough to be troubled by such things. Maybe the water off this duck’s back gives my beloved a soaking, or did at one time.

In one-on-one interaction, though, I certainly can see wanting to be sensitive to the childless couple – especially for those couples who are fighting, pushing, desperately wanting to be parents and so far, no dawn breaks on the horizon. It’s an open wound, vulnerable to all sorts of salt being poured in, especially unintentionally.

There’s only been one time, at least that I can recall – herself might know of others – that I felt excluded. And that word “unintentionally” was certainly applicable here.

Let’s roll that beautiful bean footage, shall we?

We were, years ago, part of a small group. And as happens in the course of life, some couples left and others joined. But at a certain point, for the first time, the dynamic of the group changed…

Unintentionally? Absolutely.

The “common ground” of the group had changed to “we’re all parents,” which was the context the new folks knew the others from… Except for us. They were new to us, we were new to them, and the commonality they shared with the others was lacking with us. Over time, maybe we could have found other common ground, but there didn’t seem to be any at the outset, or at least nothing as powerful in their lives as that mutual joy and responsibility.

And though this wasn’t intended, that slight shift left us at the station while the train moved along. Totally understandable, absolutely explainable, but there it was. The new folks were so geeked to get to know their friends better, since they were already friends through parenting Sunday School classes and other youth and children-related activities, so to them this small group would naturally extend into that realm as well…

And Vicki and I felt excluded. Out of place. Like we didn’t have anything to bring to the party, it moved two zip codes away, and didn’t leave a forwarding address.

Ok – maybe that was a little over the top. A little.

I repeat – this was not intentional. It was simply a changing of the dynamic of a group, a subtle shift that no one intentionally made. It just happened.

Yeah, it was a little over the top. A bit past little, but not near a lot. I think.

So how did we respond?

I’ll admit, there were some tears in private. And some hurt. Long-time friends in the group felt the shift, and understood our discomfort.

So did we sit the group down, explain things and give everybody a gentle talking to?

No.

Because of busy lives, the group didn’t endure. But our intention had been to quietly withdraw, to step back when the group began to move in this new direction.

That’s one of the only times I can remember that we felt excluded. Unintentional? Yup.

Riddle me this, bat friends…

Was the exclusion created by the new group members, or was it created by our perceptions?

Or was it a gestalt thing – the combination of factors that ended up with a result nobody saw coming?

And how often, as my life without offspring moves along, could I perceive a slight where none was intended?

As I said, my perspective has been tempered by 31 years of marriage. Couples in years 1-5 (and certainly beyond…) have many more raw spots open to all kinds of abrasion. For us, we’re way over the days of “What if? Why did we? Fostering? Adoption? Even in our 30s, 40s, 50s?” The raw spots have been smoothed away with time and a little wisdom, along with more than a little grace and mercy.

– Grace from the many families that have wrapped arms around us, making us a part of their lives, adding to our quiver beloved niecelets and neffypoohs, some who have called us aunt and uncle since they were old enough to talk.

– Grace from a church family that has grown with us, giving us places to serve, babies to cuddle, kids to interact with and teach, and a home.

– Grace from the kind folks that always make sure my beloved gets a carnation on Mother’s Day. She’s a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and certainly deserves a flower on that day.

(For the record, she usually gets a card from her doggie kiddo as well, written in scrawling letters and paw prints…)

– Mercy from our Father, who loves His son and daughter, showing us in our later years why the path led this way in our early years.

Romans 8:28: always in perfect focus when viewed in the rear-view mirror.

So…

As a childless couple, how would we wish to be loved and cared for by our church?

There’s no easy, one-size-fits-all-situations answer, just as there’s no one answer for how to love and care for the parents in our church? Or the empty nesters? Or the grandparents, widows, widowers, or the lonely?

But, from my little window on my weird world, how would we wish to be loved and cared for?

With grace. With love. With a heart for each one, each couple, wherever they are at and whatever season of life they find themselves in, especially in those shadowy areas between the seasons, the tough places of transition.

Life in the body of Christ, at least in my imperfect perspective, means looking beyond my four walls, into the lives and seasons of my brothers and sisters around me, meeting them where they are, just as I would hope they meet me where I find myself…

With an empty quiver, and a full, grateful heart, because of my Father’s grace, mercy, and love.

Now, niecelets and neffypoohs – whose year is it to take the Weird Uncle home? Hee hee hee…

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