‘How do you deal with being childless at church?’ a friend recently asked me. ‘Do people put pressure on you to “Be fruitful and multiply”?’
I nodded emphatically. ‘You betcha. Happens all the time.’
Her eyes widened. ‘How do you deal with that?’
It’s a good question, isn’t it? What is the best way to respond to well-meaning Christians who think God commands us to have children?
Beyond telling people to bugger off and mind their own business, and beyond getting into a theological argument about whether God’s command to the first two human beings roaming the earth still applies to us today (better minds than mine are exploring that minefield), there’s a few things I’d like to put on the table.
First, Christian friends have urged me to have children while assuming I am a healthy, fertile female who is unlikely to encounter pregnancy complications. Unfortunately, though, I am neither healthy nor straightforward when it comes to pregnancy.
Unfortunately, I am neither healthy nor straightforward when it comes to pregnancy.
For my response, I have two options: tell them my life story, or keep my private health issues to myself. I usually opt for the invisible third option: tell them enough to shut them up without disclosing every graphic detail about myself, ie. ‘Actually, pregnancy could be quite dangerous for me. And for the baby. Do you think God’s command still applies to me?’
I don’t tell them about the chronic illness with which I live, or the mechanics of a dangerous pregnancy. I just make a statement of fact. And most people do not pry after that. They seem satisfied with my explanation. Or they don’t want to know about my reproductive organs. Which is fine by me.
Second, I tell them, ‘I am.’ Just because I haven’t had biological children, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been fruitful. I have ‘multiplied’ through helping others as a counsellor, writing blogs and books, being part of a worship team at church, publishing songs, praying for others, investing in friendships and creating spaces for lament and truth-telling.
Just because I haven’t had biological children, doesn’t mean I haven’t been fruitful.
Plus, when it comes to being fruitful, we already have a guide for that: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. If you have these things in your life, you are bearing fruit. You don’t have to be a parent to bear that kind of fruit. It’s accessible to everyone.
Third, I gently remind them that my standing with God is ultimately between me and God. If I am missing something in my life, he will set me straight. He has certainly done that before. But if God and I are OK, then I am OK. And I won’t be guilted or gaslit into believing otherwise. No matter how well-meaning my friends may be.
My standing with God is ultimately between me and God.
It can be challenging to have these conversations. But being fruitful? Multiplying the good I am doing with my life? Not so challenging. I’m already doing that.
Have people told you to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’? How do you respond? How can the church approach childless people more sensitively when it comes to ‘fruitfulness’? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.