A Platter of Platitudes

I was irked the other day to hear that a fellow childless lady had her childlessness described as “God’s will.” I don’t know if it was meant as an encouragement, but it sounded like the result was all kinds of unhelpful. To me, “It’s God’s will” comes across as a platitude.

We do this, don’t we? We respond to other peoples’ pain with platitudes, especially religious-sounding ones. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I’m not even sure why we do it. Maybe we don’t know what to say. Maybe we can’t relate to the other persons’ pain. Maybe we don’t want to sit and listen and empathise. Or maybe we really do think that God’s will is for some people to be childless.

Let’s unpack that last one. Could God really want some people to be childless? Even if he does, I’m not sure I can determine God’s will for other peoples’ lives. But maybe we’re over-spiritualising this. Sometimes what we call God’s will is really a medical issue, or a life circumstance, or a mystery. We tend to struggle with mystery, the quality of the unknown. Far easier to blame it on God.

Unfortunately this can deliver unhelpful messages to the childless person. Imagine for a sec if they started believing that it is God’s will – that God’s best and most loving plan is for them to never be the parent they have always longed to be. It insinuates other not-so-helpful messages, such as:

  • You’re not really fit to be a parent;
  • You’ve displeased God in some way;
  • You need more faith;
  • God is punishing you;
  • You can’t fight God.

There is an inherent message here about “accept it and move on” because God’s will sounds like a very final argument. We can’t argue with God; might as well learn to live without children. This might be difficult for the childless person for whom the grief is without end.

I’ve heard a range of other platitudes for the childless person:

  • There’s a reason for everything;
  • God’s on the throne;
  • This will get better;
  • At least you have your partner/job/health;
  • You can always try again;
  • You need to find some other way of giving your life meaning.

It would be great if pain could be so easily diverted or subsumed by some other cause. But grief doesn’t work that way. A hole in the heart is not easily satisfied by a substitute.

I am tired of platitudes. I say enough is enough. Platitudes get in the way of what we need most from each other: connection. We need authentic compassion from those who listen to our stories. We don’t want advice, pat answers or clichés. We want to belong, to be loved, to be heard.

I need to get better at communicating this. I need to say, “It’s ok, you can ask me about it.” “It’s ok, you don’t have to solve this for me.” “It’s ok, you don’t need to have the same identical experience as me.” “It’s ok, you don’t have to say a word; I just need you here.” No platitudes necessary. Just be there.

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