Apr 8, 2014

Focus on the Family

by Matthew McEwan

The birth of a child is an exciting time, and for my wife and I that’s how the year 2013 came to a close. Micah was born on his due date, December 31st at 2:30 PM. Expecting a child through the season of Advent and Christmas forced me to make alternative arrangements for both worship services and church and family events should our baby’s arrival have come early. I knew that Christmas Dinners and programs could continue without me, but for worship services a lay minister was willing to provide pulpit supply and for the Christmas Eve Communion Service I invited a retired minister (Rev. Arthur Perry) to join us and help serve the Lord’s Supper. While the world celebrated the close of one year and anticipated the dawn of a new year, my family and church family celebrated the safe arrival of Micah.

Leaving the hospital I was aware that the year 2013 could have ended quite differently for us and our story could have been one of sorrow. A hospital is one setting where Romans 12:15 (the people of God are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn) is in effect with full force. When some people in a hospital are welcoming a new life into their family, at the same moment you can find others on a different floor saying goodbye. Even in the labour and delivery unit, there are some families saying goodbye even before they had the opportunity to say hello.

After the arrival of each of my children I’ve left the birthing unit with gladness, but I’ve also experienced sorrow after the loss of a miscarriage. When my wife suggested that we have a service or a time of prayer, I found that I had no available resources. Although services for dedication or infant baptism are common and easy to find, there are fewer services for times of sorrow. Following the miscarriage I worked with the Study Commission on Doctrine to create a service to help begin the healing process for those who are grieving the loss of a miscarriage or stillbirth. Example of a service can be found here: http://fmcic.ca/index.php/en/who-we-are/position-papers/4-who-we-are/position-papers/899-service-for-miscarriage-or-stillbirth.

It’s not just a miscarriage or still birth that can cause sorrow, but also issues of infertility. Couples facing infertility and childlessness need empathy and support, and the Church must be equipped to deal with that form of loss. Unfulfilled hopes and dreams of a family are not instantly healed with the possibility of adoption. For couples seeking emotional healing with regards to infertility, good pastoral care and even counselling are needed.

There are a few examples in Scripture of women dealing with infertility, but perhaps the most striking example is Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke chapter 1. The Gospel begins with Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth being described as being honourable people who were “…righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). The next verse says that they were childless and in that cultural and historical context most would have assumed this couple’s barrenness was a form of God’s judgment. Like Job’s friends who accused Job of sin for the cause of his suffering, or the disciples asking Jesus about whose sin was to blame because a man was born blind in John chapter 9, the stigma of infertility was such that Elizabeth said on the birth of her miracle child, “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (Luke 1:25). This is a strange statement coming from Elizabeth since we’re told that even though she was righteous in God’s sight, her infertility was a source of disgrace among the people. While people today may not automatically equate infertility with sin or God’s judgment, couples facing childlessness still experience significant sorrow and grief much like the stories in Scripture whether one considers Sarah, Hannah or Elizabeth.

Again I return to Romans 12:15. It is easy for people in the Church to celebrate with a couple on the safe arrival of a new baby, but we are also called to mourn with those who mourn. Congregations that over-emphasize family ministry, family events and family programs may unintentionally make a couple mourning because of childlessness feel isolated. The Song of Songs presents a relationship between a man and a woman with no references to children. There is certainly a mystery to the sad reality that some who want children are unable to conceive, others may want a child yet experience a miscarriage, while still others choose to have an abortion. The challenge for the Church is not to understand this iniquity or even attempt to explain it, but simply rejoice with those who rejoice, and have awareness, empathy and sensitivity to be able to mourn with those who mourn.

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