by Suzanne Burden
Feeling particularly vulnerable about my childless status, I posted my thoughts to my blog in the hopes of gaining some support. The post, “Loving the Child-free People in Your Church” received almost 300 views in 36 hours. Comments poured in from Christian women who were childless by choice or circumstance.
However, as ostracized as I and many women feel living child-free in the Church, our culture also marginalizes women without children. Time magazine recently featured a cover touting “The Child-Free Life.” The writer, Lauren Sandler, asked this question on CBS News: “What is an adult woman if she’s not a mother?”
In my opinion, the Church should be taking the lead in answering this question. Why, then, aren’t we? Is a follower of Jesus supposed to pursue parenthood at any cost? Would our financial, emotional and spiritual resources be better invested elsewhere? And is it possible, in an attempt to preserve the nuclear family, that the Church of Jesus has made an idol out of parenthood?
I ask these questions not because I want to, but because I must. After facing several years of infertility and little hope from the adoption agency we have chosen, I am child-free at age 40. Others who sit in a church pew each Sunday may not have children by choice. Many of the single and married among us long to be parents but believe that dream will never be fulfilled.
Allow me to be blunt for a moment. If those without children aren’t included at your church, if they are not welcomed and celebrated, if they are not a vital part of your services and community, then Jesus himself wouldn’t be welcome in your church. Jesus himself did not have children. He gave us the double-love command: to love the Lord our God with everything in us and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He also asked us to make disciples, teaching them to observe his ways. None of these instructions require parenting, though they can. They simply involve faithfulness.
I don’t feel like giving up on Jesus, but I have often felt squeezed out of His Church. Here are some ways we might love those without children:
• Assume nothing. Don’t ask if newcomers have kids or if they want kids, but get to know them as people.
• Let them know you see them. Visit with those without children and ask them to tell their stories; honor their journey. If they are struggling, listen and ask “How can I encourage you in this?”
• Make room for them. Does your programming immediately ostracize the childless person? How about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day observances? How does your church bring together everyone from the oldest to the youngest, the family with the quiver-full and the person who attends church alone? In my humble opinion, how you answer that question can be a great indicator of the health of your church community.
Suzanne Burden holds an MA in Theological Studies and can be found blogging at the intersection of beauty and theology at suzanneburden.com. She writes and edits for a variety of organizations and coauthored the upcoming book Reclaiming Eve: the Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God (Beacon Hill Press, March 2014).