Childless, what can I give Him?
How many do you have?
My much beloved dad, the architect of my faith, died in January 2019 and I wanted to make a piece of jewellery bearing his nickname for me in his handwriting – a little way of keeping him with me. I dug out my box of wedding mementos, sure that I would find something there. As I leafed through wedding acceptance cards, orders of service and engagement congratulations I came across our completed handouts from our diocesan marriage preparation course. We were encouraged to ensure we were on the same page regarding the big life questions as far ahead of our nuptials as possible. I glanced through the worksheet and my breath caught in my throat when I happened upon “How many children do you want?”. My frivolous but heartfelt answer read: “How many do you have?!”
Closing, locking and bolting the door
I met my husband, Martyn, relatively late in the day in fertility terms so we knew that conceiving might be challenging and, while we would have joyfully taken on every child sent to us, the realists in us allowed us to dream of two – a boy, Isaac (meaning laughter), and a girl, Grace… we’d call her Gracie! But the crippling as-yet-undiagnosed endometriosis that had plagued me since the start of my periods was to prove too much for our efforts at conception, especially, resulting as it did in a hysterectomy in the autumn of 2018. Its definitive nature represented the closing, locking and bolting of a door that our faith and desire had been prayerfully and stubbornly trying to prise open for 11 years.
The Presentation of the Lord
Martyn is from an Orthodox Jewish background and I have learned from him that, at the Presentation of the Lord, as faithful Jews of the time, Our Lady and St Joseph were fulfilling an ancient practice of their people. Jewish parents would take their first-born son to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer him to the Lord in thanksgiving for saving their people’s first-born sons from the last of the Ten Plagues, which secured the Israelite’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. The parents would then symbolically buy their child back with the doves or pigeons that we hear the Holy Family offered. How much more moving this fourth joyful mystery is when placed in the context of the fifth sorrowful mystery. Mary and Joseph gave their Son back to God in thanksgiving for saving the first-borns of Israel, yet that same Son would suffer, die and rise again for each one of us.
Yet, what can I give Him?
So, as we approach the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, I don’t have a first-born to offer to God in thanksgiving for all He has done for me – so what can I give? I’m reminded of the beautiful lyric from my favourite Christmas carol, In the Bleak Midwinter, by the incomparable Christina Rossetti:
“What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part, Yet, what I can, I give Him, give my heart.”
And truly, this is all He’s ever asked of me, because everything else stems from that. When I give Him my heart, all the other decisions are made easier – obedience, devotion, sacrifice… living with the impact of those decisions may be hard but the decision itself is relatively easy.
Losing our dream and finding our fruitfulness
Isaac and Gracie were so real to us. We talked about them a lot during our engagement and the earlier years of our marriage. As the likelihood of meeting them slowly ebbed away, we spoke of them less. Their loss can feel alarmingly real sometimes. So, here I am, unable to give what I hoped, expected or desperately wanted to give. What, then, can I give? Is my life and our marriage entirely devoid of value as we haven’t been able to provide the future nuns, monks and/or saints of the Church we hoped and prayed for? I hope not – and I don’t believe it is. Sometimes Martyn and I still ruminate on our loss. We consider all that we are able to devote to God and how much harder, if not impossible, all that would be with a young family.
I organise a pilgrimage to Lourdes every year and, as departure edges closer, it becomes all-consuming and ludicrously stressful. Could I do that with a young family? Doubtful. We run RCIA in our parish and it’s such a joy and privilege to walk with these brothers and sisters as they discover the fullness of God’s plan through His Church. How easy would that be to do with homework, parents evenings, PTFA meetings, play dates, extra-curricular activities to manage and so on? Not very. Every Lent we travel all over the country with a Passover ministry that helps parishes and faith groups to uncover the fulfilment of the Passover story through the events of Easter – in one year we travelled over 1,200 miles! Could we have done so with small children? It seems unlikely! Those are just the big-ticket items. I’m in the choir, Mart is a reader, we’re involved in a lot of evangelisation activities at parish and diocesan level.
All He’s ever asked for
When God created man, He asked that we be fruitful. We have taken this to mean to provide children for Him and yes, that’s absolutely part of it… but is it the whole story? I don’t believe so. We have learned to be fruitful for God in so many other ways and we’re so grateful for them. So, this Feast of the Presentation what will we give Him? As always, we’ll give Him all He’s ever asked for: our hearts and all the fruitfulness that flows from them. Happy feast day!