This is part of a series by Mr. M on "How to Live Joyfully with Infertility." Read part one here: Get Your Treasure Right, part two here: Go Into the Desert, and part three here: Be a Beloved Son or Daughter.
Let Your Suffering Be Fruitful
|Our Fig Tree with San Damiano|
Cross in the Background
It was a long night wrestling with God about infertility. I just simply continued to pray and to pray to him asking him for light, strength, comfort, guidance, healing, etc. We have a fig tree in our living room (see above) and I remember looking at it as a sign of my situation. According to tradition, the tree of good and evil in the garden of Eden was not an apple tree but rather a fig tree for the fig tree in scripture can either be the sign of life or of cursing death. (We see this tradition reflected in Michelangelo who painted a fig tree in the garden of Eden on the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.) So I was sitting in my living room thinking should I grasp after this fruit of a child by doing what is forbidden (i.e. sinning in some way)? Or should I patiently wait on the Lord to give me the fruit He desires. Of course, I knew the answer, but my heart and my will were having a hard time on that day. It was that night that I realized as if for the first time that we happened to have a San Damiano cross behind our fig tree. As I fixed my gaze a little more I saw Christ's blood pouring out onto saints, the dead and suffering in hell, and even a little rooster. The rooster represents St. Peter and all those who at one time or another were a hypocrite like him in the Gospel. Needless to say, I really resonated with this little rooster. “Yes, Lord I am a hypocrite for doubting you. I am the rooster.” It was at this point I saw in that very cross the simple truth that Christ proclaims from it: “Behold, I make all things fruitful – even the greatest suffering of death.” So I thought to myself, “If Christ can make death fruitful, he certainly can make my infertility fruitful too”. I just have to have faith. It is then I got another message drilled through to my soul from God: “Your suffering is not pointless. Your suffering is worth suffering through.”
|The rooster is by his right knee cap. It is small and difficult to see|
to remind us that sin is always lurking in the shadows of our souls.
Sin tries to hide from our gaze as long as possible in order to entrap
us more deeply in its grips.
This is the answer all infertile couples must find for themselves with the help of God. I am very very sympathetic to other infertile couples who seek to avoid and to eliminate the pain of infertility by medical means. Some of these medical means are wholesome and should be sought, but others are very dangerous to the soul, especially IVF, as it alienates the spouses from one another and from the child. Now I am not going to get into why this alienation occurs here in this blog post and please know dear friends who may read this blog that I am the last person to be unsympathetic to those who choose IVF. In fact, I radically cry and pray for those couples who have chosen this procedure and I understand exactly their pain and attraction to IVF because of my own infertility I am experiencing with my wife. (If any of you ever through this blog want to talk about it, then we are here to offer a listening ear and to discuss it. You are not alone; we walk with you. We are here for you regardless of what you may have done.) But what I am trying to say in this post is that medical means of any sort - good or ill - to alleviate infertility can push the bigger question off: why go through this suffering Lord?
The only way to answer this question is to realize Christ's promise: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32). It is the truth of Christ that gives meaning to our suffering. That is, for suffering to be fruitful and to be meaningful it must be a witness to something; and to be a witness is to point toward a truth we have discovered. A truth that is worth suffering for at all costs. A truth that is worth dying for. A truth that is worth suffering through infertility for. What is this fruitful truth that has set us as an infertile couple free? For us, there are many truths we think our suffering is a witness to. Let me just list a few.
First, our suffering is a witness to the fact mentioned previously in post one that Christ alone can satisfy our desire, including our unfulfilled desire of a child. He is the greatest good in our life. Not children, not a career, and not any other good work we may do. If we have a robust relationship with God as His beloved and we are faithful to what He wants in our lives (not necessarily what we want), then we have everything.
Second, our suffering is a witness to the fact that children are radically a gift. They are not something ever owed to any of us, created solely by our wills, or to be grasped at with any means, even good means. For instance, adoption is not a substitute for our unfulfilled desire. No, our suffering of not being able to conceive biologically related children will remain even after we adopt, which is why we have to see the meaning in our suffering. But more importantly, we must choose adoption not as a fulfillment of our desire but because we feel called by God through our situation of infertility to serve the good of this little vulnerable child who has gone through a tragedy. In other words, our suffering points to the fact that the child is a gift. So we choose adoption primarily for the child's sake not for our own because again a child is a complete gift to be loved for him or herself. A child is not the alleviation of our desire anymore than it is the result of the parent's desire when conceived through sexual intercourse. No, a child cannot be reduced to the question of being wanted or not-wanted by parent's desire. A child is a gift always loved and created by God (through an act of the parents) whether or not particular parents want them. In other words, there are no unwanted children. There are only parents who fail to recognize that the child is a gift from God and loved and wanted by God always and to act accordingly with this truth. Our suffering when properly understood and lived points to this profound and forgotten reality about children today. A child is an irreducible good in himself or herself who is not owed to anyone. This is the basis of the child's radical dignity and equality with its parents. This dignity and equality of the child as a gift and the rights of the child to be treated as such our suffering proclaims incessantly.
Third, our suffering is a simultaneous witness to both the fact that children are inextricably bound to the marriage relationship and the beauty of marriage in itself. Our culture has forgotten these truths (especially in the whole misguided same-sex “marriage” debate), but our suffering proves otherwise. Our suffering shows that yes you can have a completely beautiful marriage even without children, but nonetheless that children are intrinsic to love. Children are not an optional aspect of married love. Otherwise our suffering wouldn't hurt so much to go childless. In other words, if children weren't intrinsic to love, then our suffering wouldn't be felt as a lack. Or if children weren't intrinsic to love, then our suffering would be reduced to simply not getting something we want, like a little kid in a candy store who didn't persuade his mom to buy him a chocolate bar. But no, infertility is a greater pain than all of that. Infertility is a lack felt in the depths of love, which is why it is so tear gushing and terrible. Nonetheless paradoxically through God's grace we can still have everything proper to love when we follow Him. This is the mysterious paradox of our suffering – our marriages are complete and good in themselves and yet they lack the fullness of children that is pursued in our love as a total gift of ourselves. Therefore, how dare someone tell us to our face or publicly that children and marriage don't necessarily go together! To me, it makes a mockery of our suffering and adds an insult on top of our injury. I pray for those souls who believe these things and I pray that they recognize the great damage they are inflicting upon the suffering of infertile couples whose authentic witness of suffering is being ignored and stifled by the political and cultural ideology en vogue.
Fourth, our suffering is a witness that suffering can be turned into joy against all odds. Just because you have infertility, it doesn't doom you into a life of sadness and nothingness. Paradoxically, there is much to discover that is good in this suffering. For instance, all of these insights I typed about here across 4 posts. All of the insights my wife has shared on this blog. But more than that, God wants to use our infertility in unexpectedly beautiful and fruitful ways. To borrow a phrase that Pope Francis used to speak about all wounds: infertility is a unique point of intimacy with God. Or to use my words, infertility is grace waiting to happen. I am sure of it. In our own life we discover this mysterious grace in many ways. We have to have spiritual eyes to see it, but it is there. For instance, our time of infertility has allowed us to take care of the weak and the sick more than our married friends with children. We have grown to see these weak, disabled, and sick individuals as our “spiritual children.” We have also come to see that our support and accompanying with other infertile couples are also part of this graceful fruitfulness from suffering and vice-versa (their support to us is an overflowing of their graced fruitfulness to us). Further, we have discovered fruitfulness through marriage ministry, through our jobs, through participation in our parish, setting up an Archdiocesan Mass for infertile couples, etc. While these activities can never be equated with physical fruitfulness, nonetheless they are still spiritually fruitful. This spiritual fruitfulness is not “second best” either. Rather, it is the goal of all physical fruitfulness. (Truthfully, this question of fruitfulness would take another long post to sort out how spiritual and physical fruitfulness are always related, so I digress.) But let me just say that suffering can bear much good fruit – this is the beauty and truth of the cross. So find out what that grace is in your suffering. Find that hidden fruitfulness buried beneath the barrenness. Every couple will be unique in this regard. But above all as you seek for this grace, remember what Christ proclaimed to me: “your suffering of infertility is not pointless; it is worth suffering through. Behold I make all things fruitful.”
Conclusion: Don't Put Off Your Joy Today
In conclusion, I propose for all of us struggling with infertility that this is our time to realize that radical sonship and daughtership God is giving us each day. He loves us so much! He really does. This is the core of our identity: we are God's beloved sons and daughters with a mission to go ever deeper into this sonship or daughtership through virtue, witness, and recognizing our unique missions of fruitful grace! How wonderful and beautiful! Our joy doesn't have to wait until tomorrow. It doesn't have to wait until doctors cure the underlying condition of our infertility. It doesn't have to wait until we have children adopted or otherwise. We can have it today by living from this core of who we are, by recognizing our treasure, going into the desert, being a son or daughter, and letting our suffering be fruitful. If we do all of this, then I believe we will surely be living joyfully. That is something to be hopeful about; and my prayer for you all dear friends on this infertility journey is that you may know this hope and joy today not tomorrow. Please continue to pray for us.
Epilogue: How Do You live Joyfully with Infertility?
I have shared a number of thoughts during the course of these last four posts. I pray that through God's grace at least one thought was helpful toward your healing. However, I am still very much in this “school of suffering love” known as infertility and I very much need to learn from others. Therefore, my wife and I would be grateful to learn from you dear friends along the journey of infertility. Perhaps you can help us? Perhaps you can share a piece of the good news of Christ with us by answering the following question: how do you live joyfully with infertility? You can mention anything from serious to fun – wherever you have found grace and joy! Please share your thoughts and insights below in the comment section. Thanks!