I had this great plan
So, I had this great plan.
I would graduate from the University of New Orleans with my Bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology then apply to Delgado's Physical Therapist Assistant program and work as a physical therapy technician until then. I didn’t have a serious boyfriend at the time, but I still somehow decided that I’d get married after I finished grad school, then have kids not long after that and quit my job to raise our little cherubs. Duh, I’m Catholic.
This wasn’t something I ever discerned (discernment? What’s that?!), it was just the way things were going to be. I became a Physical Therapist Assistant and got married about four years later. Everything was going just as ordered until my genius plan met its biggest hiccup.
I could not get pregnant.
Excuse me, what? Does my uterus know I’m Catholic? Despite years of painful periods and a late endometriosis diagnosis, I never once considered that this disease’s common side effect of infertility would actually apply to me. When it did, I felt lost and alone. I was so confused as I consistently recalled the Bible verse instructing humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and witnessed every single one of my friends produce child after child. Not only did I long to hold our own baby in my arms, but I longed to be received and valued in my Catholic community just as I was. Surrounded by such an emphasis on bearing a biological child, it is no wonder why I felt so abnormal and so isolated. That is, until God unveiled for me the fullness of fruitfulness.
Ironically, it ended up being my deeply painful trudge through infertility that elicited my quest to discover what God was actually calling me to do with my life (actual discernment) with the gifts He had given me. Had I gotten pregnant easily, I’m not sure I would have put the same amount of effort into discovering what God intended by the command to “be fruitful”. Infertility forced my eyes to focus more closely on the beauty God derives from all of our lives with our cooperation. It was only then that I was able to see so many products of God’s love and creativity unfolding around me, just as I was - all ways in which He has been very clear about from the beginning of time.
So what does God say about fruitfulness in scripture? The following are just a few quotes.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water…It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Fruitfulness must be one of God’s favorite things to talk about. It’s all over the Bible. And yes, sometimes this refers to the wonderful responsibility of having children, but it is also quite commonly portrayed as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. It is the result of trusting in the Lord, repentance, and remaining in Jesus and allowing Him to reign in us. Even when it comes to having children, it is not merely the conception of new life that makes us fruitful. Almost anyone can do that. It is in giving ourselves that we find fulfillment. In Mulieris Dignitatum, Pope St. John Paul II declares that “In the Spirit of Christ, in fact, women can discover the entire meaning of their femininity and thus be disposed to making a ‘sincere gift of self’ to others, thereby finding themselves.”
So, why are many of us Catholics so inclined to limit openness to life, fruitfulness, and procreation to the production of children alone? Fertility is not a prerequisite. Only love. The call to be fruitful applies to every man, woman and couple regardless of their marital status, family size, faith background or fertility. The mere existence of little humans alone cannot satisfy the call to procreate. To be truly open to life, we must avoid contraception and actively pursue however God is calling us to love. This will be unique for every person and every couple.
This morning I took my daily walk along Lake Pontchartrain where I am always greeted by an elderly man and his two sweet dogs. Each day, we exchange a kind wave and a smile. Sometimes he offers a joke. Today was special, though, because I paid closer attention. As I took in God’s incredible glory reaching out to me through the scenery, I invited Him in. When my eyes met this man’s and we both smiled, I noticed what was happening. I felt God’s warm presence. I felt the fruit born from our friendly exchange. I thought, “This is what God meant.” My original plans for life were actually limiting. God wanted more for each day of my life and I am grateful that He helped me to discover that, as hard as that process of learning was. From the very littlest things to great self-sacrificial acts, when done in love, fruit blossoms all around.
You might say, “It’s good that I can be fruitful, Mary, but I still desire to carry a child.” And I would respond - yes, I know. I do, too [insert warm smile]. And that hurts. And you may or may not ever grow new life inside of you, but if you pursue your ongoing, unique call to love, you will feel new life grow all around you. And for far more than 40 weeks. And that will feel very, very good.
In fact, it’s a pretty darn good plan.