The Quiet House: Ministering with the Father’s Heart to Childless Men and Women

What happens on Mother’s Day at your church? It is typical and fitting to honor the mothers who are present. In some cases moms are asked to stand, given a public blessing and a hearty applause, followed by a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication. Usually a flower or some other small gift is given to each mom. How Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are observed reveal much about the heart of a church.

The Aching Heart
One of the most painful experiences is that of women or men who desire to have children but cannot. They may be married or single, be barren, or have experienced the loss of a child (or multiple children) through miscarriage or death. It’s true that some people don’t desire to have children, but that is the exception. Most believers look forward to having little ones around, and when that can’t happen, it hurts.

The Parent Heart

Some busy parents may look at those without children and think they have it easy. Well-meaning men and women can misunderstand and even sin against those who are childless. They can be guilty of looking at them with jealousy or judgment: With jealousy a parent might think, “They have time and money to do the things they want.  They have more time to dedicate themselves to serving God.”  With judgment someone might think, “Why isn’t he married? There must be something wrong with her. Why don’t they have a baby? How strange, how selfish! Exhausted? … They don’t even know the meaning of the word!” If believers are not jealous or judgmental, they can be neglectful. Sad to say, it’s easy to get so busy that we don’t take time to think about the needs of other people.

The Single Heart

One bright Mother’s Day morning, all of the moms were invited to stand in the front of the church. The pastor spoke glowingly of how wonderful they all were and how greatly the future rests upon their shoulders. My single friend Laura felt uncomfortable, since she was about the only woman left back in the pews.  After they were dismissed to their seats, Laura breathed a sigh of relief that the ceremony was over for another year. However, the pastor had forgotten to give the women flowers, so he had some men pass them out right away. My friend was left empty-handed as she looked around at all the smiling mothers.

Laura cried all the way home from church, again asking God to help her be content in her singleness. Unfortunately the pastor had also forgotten to hand out special books, so in the evening service the deliverers were sent out again. A deacon started to hand a book to Laura, and just as she reached out to accept the gift, he quickly pulled his hand back and said, “Oops!” At that moment Laura felt as though she wanted to shrivel up and die.

On holidays honoring parents, some people without children feel uncomfortable, lonely, and even as if they are unimportant or sinful because they haven’t produced children. While they rejoice with their friends who are moms and dads, they can be grievously reminded of their sorrow. Does the church remember these dear sisters and brothers in Christ on these occasions and throughout the year? It is possible to bless everyone present in our churches on days of honor. To do this, believers need to cultivate the heart of the Father.

The Father’s Heart

In seeking to minister to others, believers can become overwhelmed with the variety of people and their needs. Knowing that someone needs encouragement is one thing – knowing how to do it is entirely another.  Believers can increase in wisdom by asking God (James 1:5), and by learning to offer comfort to the fainthearted.

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”  I Thessalonians 5:14

Christians may not understand where other people are coming from. Yet with God’s help we can try to put ourselves in their shoes. Believers have no excuse not to do their best to encourage others.

Besides first and foremost praying for them, here are some practical ideas on how church leadership and individuals can minister to people without children:

1. Be friendly.  Don’t talk too much about your kids. If someone in the group is going on and on about their children, smile and start talking about something that they are interested in.

2. Give them opportunities to minister to children.  A precious couple who lost four babies during pregnancy and have no living children are the world’s most loving and dedicated Sunday School teachers.  And what a blessing those children are to them!

3. Include them in family activities. Invite them into your home. Have your children deliver a “just because” card or cookies. Invite them to sit with you in church. Holidays can be the hardest times; if they are not able to be with loved ones, joyfully welcome them to your celebration. You may feel uncomfortable sharing news of your pregnancy with them, but they want to hear it from you. Pray, and God will direct you to the right words and timing. 

4. Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Send a note, e-mail, or card reminding them how special they are and to let them know you are praying for them. In church honor the moms and dads present, but also focus on the valuable roles of being godly men and women. If the church is going to give a gift, buy enough to give to every man or woman present. Being a parent doesn’t make folks more precious or better people. Some of the best “moms” and “dads” in our churches don’t have biological children. But, oh, the spiritual children in which they’ve invested their lives!

5. Respect their privacy. In most cases it is rude to ask them when they are going to get married/have kids/adopt. And never ask them why they can’t have children. If they choose to confide in you, make sure you are a trustworthy confidant. 

6. Be considerate regarding specific events.  Use common sense. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want to ask a childless woman to be in charge of a baby shower. It may even be too painful for childless women to attend the shower. This doesn’t mean that they are not happy for the new mother. It may be that they know they can’t handle it emotionally and don’t want to cause a scene.

7. Respect and appreciate them. That they don’t have kids or are unmarried doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. Single people and married people without children have so much to offer. Ask them to be your prayer partners or accountability partners. On the other hand, church leadership should not assume that childless people have a lot of extra time and should not take advantage of them, always expecting them to serve.

8. Relax and listen. Don’t worry that you won’t know what to say to them. Be a sympathetic listener and pray for God’s wisdom to know what He would have you to say. 

9. Seek them out. Look for opportunities to serve and fellowship with childless friends. This especially means a lot if it’s a difficult day, like the day their miscarried baby was due or the anniversary of their child’s death.

How can we minister to people in circumstances so different from our own? A remarkable reality is that God can use the lessons we learn from going through a trial to help someone going through an entirely different situation! In 2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4 we read , “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (emphasis added). As we learn about God’s comfort, He gives us the ability to comfort others.

After my husband and I lost a child through miscarriage, some of the greatest encouragement came from our single friends and from those who had never lost a child. One friend, who spoke with such wisdom and love, told me that she had asked God to show her what I needed to hear. Another friend prayed and wept with me. What examples these are of godly compassion. Through His Word and Spirit, God can teach us how to minister to anyone.

In this era of support groups believers need to be careful that we do not exclusively mingle with those of their “type.” God marvelously designed us as Christ’s Body, and He makes it possible and necessary for the “hand” to look after the “foot,” and the “elbow” to care for the “eye” (I Corinthians 12). There is a wealth of wisdom and friendship out there among God’s children. And the value of believers’ ministering to believers in stages of life different from their own is God’s will for His children (Titus 2). God helps believers to think of others on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, every day. And may they prayerfully minister, as a church body and as individuals, with the Father’s heart.

(c)2009 Regular Baptist Press. Reproduced by permission.

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God Can Be Trusted

Taking a fun train ride with Daddy at the zoo.  This picture reminds me that my family can go forward confidently with God . . . no matter what the future may bring, we can trust our Conductor.

It is pleasant to have the sun warming me through my winter window this morning. My heart feels cold after another miscarriage, and I grieve the loss of my child.  Little did I guess last week, when I posted memories of our Jewel, that the life of the newest member of our family would be so short.  Psalm 127:3 clashed head on with Job 1:20-22:

“Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is His reward.” Psalm 127:3
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.’ Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.” Job 1:20-22

This morning as I tried to get breakfast around, moving my tired aching body, my tears welled up not from chopping the onions, but from my sorrow – my child has died. 

While I know this is true … there will be no need to pull out the maternity clothes, no exciting birth announcements, and no need to put “Baby Coming!” on my calendar for October … I also remind myself that his/her death is only part of the story. Our little Jade wasn’t allowed to sit in the baby swing, coo, receive hugs and kissies, say “Mama” or “Daddy,” eat a blueberry pancake, or have his or her toes tickled. These were my hope, but God had something better in mind for Jade.  And he/she is very much alive!

Centuries ago, when King David grieved the death of his child, God revealed to him that he would get to see his child again in the future:

“I will go to him but he will not return to me.”    
2 Samuel 12:23

My child was and is a real person, designed by God, known by God, with a divine purpose for his/her life:

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your words, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I as made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” Psalm 139:13-18

Someone innocently asked me, “How old was Jade?” With complete appreciation for their good intentions, it simply doesn’t matter how far along I was, nor how old Jade was when he/she died.  Jade was alive, inside me. Then Jade died, inside me. Death of a loved one is always painful … there is never enough time.

In my mind I had already planned where the baby bed would be, pictured my boys’ excitement in meeting a little sibling, and was seriously thinking through names.  I wondered what Jade would look like and could envision a future of getting to know this person as they grew up, praying and trusting that he/she would grow up to love and serve God.  I’m trying to thankfully reflect on the brief time we had together. Just a little while to treasure my special secret … to dream … to prayerfully dedicate this child inside me to God.

Even though God saw fit to take Jade home, it doesn’t mean I can’t trust Him. God knows all and can see everything. In comparison I’m like a blind ant scurrying around, unable to see the rock 10″ ahead of me. This God Who knows how small I am, lovingly calls me His own. He knows my grief. He promises never to leave me – He is holding me. When I am at the point of not being able to pray, utterly weighed down by sadness, He is working behind the scenes to bring the answer to my needs. He reaches out to me with . . .

His Word

My husband Tim
Caleb & Joshua (my children on earth)
Family …
and beauty in unexpected places

God  has provided!  One friend, not knowing why I wasn’t feeling well, suspected, and brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  They have been a balm to my spirit.  A close friend brought a meal and took the boys for a couple hours.  A precious neighbor helped in various amazing ways, providing the support we needed at just the right moment.  Our pastor and his wife got on their knees to pray for us, asking how they can help.  My sister took our boys for a couple of days so we can rest and have time to grieve.  Friends and family have prayed and offered suppport.  They have rejoiced with us and grieved with us about Jade.

I’m not sharing my heart with you so you can feel sorry for me.  Please don’t!  I want you to know that we have a beautiful child in Heaven named Jade.  And far more importantly, I want you to know GOD CAN BE TRUSTED.  We can have joy in our hearts, and we can smile through our tears, because God is real!  Whether God gives you a husband or not.  Whether He gives you children or not.  No matter what the diagnosis, no matter how many lost dreams you experience, nothing changes Who God is.  And Jeremiah 29:11 is still in the Bible.

It’s okay to grieve. He can help me through. He has a plan. He will not waste this. There is hope!  And someday, I will look into the eyes of Jesus, and He will introduce me to my beautiful treasures – Jewel, Gem and Jade … who by God’s grace never experienced the pain of this earth – only the beauty of God in His home. I was never able to tell them about Jesus, but the first One they ever met was Jesus.  I am a very blessed mother of five.   May all my children bring Him glory, there and here.

Suggested resource for those suffering a loss of a child before or after birth:  Grieving the Child I Never Knew by Kathe Wunnenberg

Little Jewel

Five years ago today we experienced a new kind of loss.  We were just a week away from telling the world that our home was being blessed with another baby.  Then came the cramping, the blood, the tears.  Even though Little Jewel is safe and happy with God, we still miss him or her today.  We look forward to our reunion with Jewel and his or her little sister (who early in my pregnancy went to be with Jesus almost 2 years ago now).  We don’t understand God’s plan, but we know we can trust Him.  One big reason He must’ve taken Jewel home is because He wanted there to be a jolly little Joshua!  I’m going to reach back into the archives and share what was on my heart five years ago …

Our Little Jewel
February 7, 2007

We have many treasures in Heaven where God is.  But we recently added another, or rather God thought our little Jewel is so precious that He wanted him or her there with Him.

At the end of December we found out that we were expecting our second child.  We were so very excited and praised God!!  Of course there is the sigh that says, “Here we go again!  Are we up to it?  Things are gonna change!”  We happily began making plans for 2007 and in the goals for August it simply said, “Get ready for Baby” because Baby Skinner #2 was supposed to arrive around September 4th.  We chuckled that it was near Labor Day and felt contentment in our hearts as we again made ready for change.

January had a difficult start because we had picked up a Type A flu bug somewhere.  The month consisted of recovering from Christmas and sickness while preparing for the 29th – Caleb’s 1st birthday!    At the beginning of the month I was a little fearful . . . would I have morning sickness?  Would I be able to do everything I wanted to do before family came to celebrate?  Every day I got up and God gave me the strength to do what I needed to do.  Sometimes I had to rest, but I had hardly a quesy feeling and daily thanked God for that good feeling!!  The day approached and we were ready.  The guest room was decorated, I thoroughly cleaned and Tim shampooed the carpets.  The house was really looking good!

We talked about how we should tell our parents about Baby and decided to give Caleb an outfit for his birthday that said, “Big Brother” on it.  It was so cute – bright blue with black wording that matched the stripes on the pant legs.  It was lovingly wrapped and awaited the big day.  We left that gift for last so that the focus could be on Caleb for his special day. 

Grandpas and Grandmas came and we had a wondreful time together!  After lunch was gift opening.  He received so many lovely cards and gifts.  When we helped him open the Big Brother outfit Tim videotaped our parents expressions.  My mom was the first to “Pop”!  and the others looked kindof shocked.  What rejoicing we shared!!  : )  Everyone was happy about Baby!!  Caleb’s birthday was so special and has such wonderful memories for us.  We have many pictures to share with him someday!

Our families were all gone back home by Tuesday, the day after Caleb’s birthday.  I felt tired, especiallly on Wednesday.  I felt like I couldn’t move and spent much of the day lying down.  On Thursday I had some spotting and felt some initial alarm, but when I read up on it I found that spotting is common.  So that made me feel better.  However, it got worse on Friday.  Tim and I had planned on a date that night with the Kirchners watching Caleb.  I didn’t really feel like going out, but Tim thought it would be good for me.  So we went to Hy-Vee for Chinese and then for a drive.  The moon was full and beautiful.  I had made some chocolate chip cookies to surprise Tim and put them in a gift bag with a note that said, “I love you, Tim! (heart)”  It was a special night, but I was not feeling well and was anxious to get home.

On Saturday we decided I should be extra careful.  Tim fed me a delicious breakfast in bed, complete with his famous pancakes!  I figured out that it was our 45th month anniversary!  : )  The spotting continued, and I was not feeling much better.  It was getting boring staying in bed all day!  On Sunday I couldn’t go to church and felt icky.  Tim went in the morning, so I had to lift Caleb.  I overdid making a nice dinner.  I thought I was feeling stronger, but something still didn’t feel right.  The bleeding continued, and I was really concerned. 

Sunday night the bleeding turned into clotting and we were scared!  We didn’t know what to do, so I suggested we call a friend – she had had a miscarriage and would know how to help us.  It was so hard to call her at 10:30 at night and tell her, “I think I’m having a miscarriage.”  She didn’t even know about our little Baby, yet.  Poor friend.  She was wonderful, as usual, and encouraged us to call the emergency room.  They suggested we try the clinic number again and that we would be able to talk to a doctor. 

We were able to talk with the dr., and she was encouraging.  She said not to worry, just to call in the morning to make an appointment.  She said that the baby could still be okay.  We felt a little better, but I didn’t sleep much that night.  I definitely felt God’s comfort over us.  I was glad when morning came, and so grateful that we hadn’t had to go to the emergency room during the frigidly cold (-10) night!

We went in for an ultrasound at 1:30.  They took some blood first to see what my hormones were doing.  The ultrasound was kindof scary because I was hoping to see a baby with a heartbeat.  The lady wasn’t allowed to interpret the pictures for us, but I asked her if she could show us where the Baby was.  She said she could do that.  But she didn’t.  We were kindof scared.  Next we waited to see our dr.  She came in and asked what had been happening.  She told us that she looked at the ultrasound pictures and there was no baby in there that she could see!  She thought we had either already miscarried or that it was a tubal pregnancy, which would mean surgery.  We were so disappointed, and I felt troubled about facing possible surgery.  She was so kind to us!  She said that we would need to come back on Wednesday to see if my hormones had dropped (since they were still so high).  But she warned us that if we felt any sharp pains to call the clinic, and if it were after 5 to go to the emergency room without delay.  Tim looked sad and disappointed across the room.  We left the office sad and shocked.  I cried a little in the elevator.  Tim hugged me close.

We went home in shock.  We called our parents to tell them.  Then I took a long bath with comforting hymn music in the background.  That night I looked at Tim and said, “I can’t believe our Baby is gone!” and I cried.  Tim isn’t much for crying, but I could see he was sad.  He held me and we grieved together.  We decided to believe that Baby was already gone and not to worry about sharp pains or surgeries.  Thankfully this is Wednesday and neither occured. 

 I went back to the clinic today to have blood work done.  The hormones had dropped from 4,000 to 2,000 (approx.) . . . I need to go back again in a week to make sure they are back to zero.  Our dr. was very kind and said that we probably miscarried on Sunday.  She said we can try again in a couple months and we should have another baby real soon.  I thanked her for being so kind, and I told her that, “We are disappointed, but we trust God’s plan.”  I hope that she can see Christ in us.  God helped me when I was scared to go to the clinic – thank you God, for giving me comfort and joy when humanly speaking there was little hope.  We have a lot of hope in You!!!

We decided to call our Baby Little Jewel because he or she was very small (about 1 inch) and very precious to us.  I still feel weak, but I can tell people are praying for us.  Tim told me tonight that he misses our Baby and is disappointed.  We had made so many happy plans!!  Now 2007 takes on a different tone.  Thankfully God is using this to draw us closer to Him and to each other.  We can see so many ways that He helped us and is helping us!!!  God, if you can use this, please do. 

As we think of our Little Jewel we thank God that he or she is with Him, safe and loved.  We also look forward to meeting Little Jewel someday!  : )  I will never forget our Baby, and he or she will always be special to me.  And I pray that we will be able to have more children someday soon.  God knows.  God gives and God takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!!

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Calendar Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We think we’re going to remember, but usually we don’t.  It’s easy for me to remember December 3rd every year, the day my sister’s oldest son was born and lived just one hour.  On that day I email or call my sweet sister to let her know I’m thinking about Ben, remembering his precious life and her loss. Every year on September 4th I get an email from a friend remembering the due date of our baby that died before his birth.  It means a lot to me to know that our Little Jewel is not forgotten.

This Saturday is the 10th anniversary of a dear friend’s widowhood.  Ten years ago her husband died of cancer.  Months ago, while we were talking about Alberto, I asked Maria, “When did he die?”  I wrote down the date and added it to my calendar as soon as she left.  Unfortunately I don’t always do this with everyone I know, but in this case I now have the privilege of loving my friend by remembering her husband.  She may need some extra encouragement, so I’m going to call her today and see if she would like a visit. 
One time when I was unsure whether I should say something to a friend about her loss, another friend recommended, “Always say something.”  In most situations we are encouraging people by keeping the memory of their loved one alive.  Sharing God’s comfort is always a good thing.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say and our fear keeps us from reaching out in compassion. A book I found very helpful is When You Don’t Know What to Say by Sandy Lynam Clough.  Here is what she suggests:

1.  Spend time.  The ministry of presence: sometimes the pain is too great for words, and someone may simply need us to be there with them.

2.  Say, “I’m so sorry.”  Avoid statements like: “She lived a long life.” (A life is never long enough for those who are grieving their loss.)  “God must have needed him in heaven.”  “There was probably something wrong with your baby, so God just took him.” “You can have another baby.”  “At least you have your other children.” A safe caring thing to say is a heartfelt, “I’m so sorry.”

3.  Don’t feel like you must try to solve their problem.  “Because we serve the One who is the Solution and the Answer, those of us who are Christians tend to feel that we are obligated to bring a solution or an answer to every problem and difficult situation.”  We often feel helpless, but the person grieving understands this.  Just go to her and talk, send an email or spend time with her.  She just needs you.

4.  Listen. If it seems appropriate, you can ask a question such as:

Do you want to tell me what happened?
Are you afraid?
What are your days like?
What concerns you most about the situation?
Are you able to sleep?
How do you want me to pray for you?
Can I give you a hug?
5.  Offer help.  Ask if you can watch her children to give her a break.  Offer to bring a meal.  See if making some phone calls for her might meet a need.  Offer to pick up something at the store while you’re out.

6.  Surrender.   When friends are in crisis it can bring fear into our own hearts.  Ask God to help you to surrender the future to His loving care, trusting He will take you through anything.  Only His love can make life peaceful.

7.  You’re My Hero!   Tell her how her way of handling the situation is an inspiration to you.  When we went through our son’s broken leg and false accusations leading to a DHS investigation, it comforted me when a friend said, “You are doing a good job, Sara.  Keep it up, this won’t last forever.” 

8.  Pray!  Most importantly, pray for your friend and offer to pray with them.  Some people feel uncomfortable with this, but most people like it when a friend offers to pray for and/or with them.  This can be done in person or over the phone.  You can even write a prayer on a card.  It is meaningful when a person who cannot even identify with your kind of loss takes time to cry and pray with you.  I know.

I hope some of these wonderful ideas help you comfort others.  Check out Sandy’s book for more practical hints.  Not long ago I ran across an obituary of a girl I grew up with who died in a car accident several years ago. I am writing it down – the end of the summer I’m going to send her mom a note of remembrance. Although she knows she will see Sarah again someday, the grief of her loss never ends.

If you have a friend who has recently experienced loss or is approaching a painful anniversary, take a few moments to let them know you care.  Think back to when a friend comforted you and when God comforted you through a trial.  Now you have the opportunity to minister.