Well, Ecce and I had a wonderful retreat as she shared in her excellent post. We will definitely be pondering the many things learned at the retreat for the next several weeks or months. Here are some of the things that struck me during the weekend. I hope they provide nuggets for reflection in your own life and in that way we can extend the retreat's experience to you. I suggest you take some of these nuggets to meditation. That's what I'm doing the next few weeks after I collected them together!
1.) We are not alone; and community is so important. We all know this truth, but it makes a big difference once you meet other couples struggling on this road of infertility. It was so great to have a community to share this struggle with on this weekend retreat. Perhaps what I enjoyed best was just talking to other couples about their situations and learning from them on how they handled it.
2.) We are called to grieve and to hope simultaneously. It sounds paradoxical, but it is true. St. Paul tells us that we are "saved in hope" and Christ tells us "blessed are those who mourn." We need both and both are ok! Problems happen when you do only one or the other. If you just grieve, then the joy will be sucked out of your relationship. If you just hope, then you will just end up stifling all of that grief and it will manifest itself in very unhealthy ways, like rage or severe depression. Depending on who you are, we tend to either fall in the category of people that try to do away with either grief or hope. I have definitely been on the side of hope too long and try to stuff the grief in either myself or my spouse. This, I learned, is not good! I have found that it is okay to grieve. The key to joy is not suppressing grief, but finding a balance of both grief and hope. This is really freeing when you think about it. We tend to think that our marriages or relationships are in bad shape if there is grief. But grief alone doesn't signal doom. It is grief without hope or too much grief and not enough hope that is a problem. Likewise, our relationships are in bad shape if there is only talk of hope, happiness, and all those fluffy good cliche sayings we tell each other when we are down, like "God will provide" or "God will take care of it." These things aren't completely wrong, but if you don't let the grief bubble up then that is treating life in light of the Resurrection and not the Cross as well. No, we need to let raw emotions just be in balance with hope in God or our relationship will lose joy. It is always okay to feel the hurt.
3.) We find the proper balance of grief and hope by examining our own behaviors. These questions, printed as a really helpful self-examination for infertile couples, really hit home on the retreat and helped me to sort out that my balance was off: "Do I feel that if only I had a child, then my life would begin, then I'd be happy?" "If I were to weigh the number of times I daily think about my future child versus the number of times I think about glorifying God, would my concern for a child outweigh my desire to glorify God?" "Do I feel incomplete, unfulfilled, less-than because I am not a parent? Am I therefore seeking in parenthood what can only be found in God?" Yeah, these questions are soul-wrenching and tough, but so helpful to purify our hearts so we have authentic motherly and fatherly hearts! Lord make us have fatherly and motherly hearts.
4.) Just as it is unfair to us to be judged or perceived as less-than because of our family size, we should be careful to not judge others as unfit parents for their family size too. A temptation of infertile couples is to say that "she or he shouldn't be a parent; life is so unfair."
5.) Nowhere in the Bible does it say "life is fair." Just ask Job. In fact, it says "trust in God and He will help us through the pain of many unfair situations." This side of heaven things are not going to be worked out for us completely.
6.) It's not just "the Lord won't give you too much to handle," but also "we are walking with the Lord." Sometimes things are too much for us to handle. It is at this point that we need to turn them over to the Lord who is walking with us. The key is to see the Lord walking with us, suffering with us, and loving us. We can't do this alone. We need his strength. Only once we recognize this, then will we be able to recognize Mother Teresa's words.
7.) Rachel sums up infertile couple's feelings pretty well, "Give me children or I will die." How many of us have felt the same thing? It is a clear statement of the wound, but at the same time we don't want to fall into Rachel's wound here. The problem here with her statement is that our identity is deeper than our desire for children or whether or not we receive children. There is something always worth living for even when children do not come. If God is love, then who are we? We are loved. Regardless of the situation we are in, we are loved. Our deepest call is to be loved and to love. Ultimately, it is to be loved and to love God. God is what we yearn for - Rachel needs a radical transformation here. She needs to see we embody love. Dwell on that.
8.) "If Jesus can turn water into wine, imagine what he can do with a single tear?" - Deacon Tony on the retreat quoting someone else
9.) Men: be present, don't fix it. As guys we want to "fix" the problem of infertility, but there isn't anything to be done about it. It is out of our control. So we need to not "fix" but be present.
10.) One of the presenters courageously presented her rage about the situation of infertility and how she was essentially saying with her anger that "I am suffering because of your infertility [to the man]." She was giving her "infertility over to Satan" by allowing herself to rage. She forgot about the blessing of her husband and her loving home. She allowed anger to poison her heart and marriage. She then realized that she was desiring a "child in her image and not God's image." That's what she wanted that was driving all of this - she was not desiring a child as a gift who is in the mind of God, but mourning imaginary children she wanted on her own terms. Do we mourn imaginary children? Certainly there is a place for grieving the loss of our dream to have children together, but we shouldn't fantasize about a life other than our own with imaginary children from imaginary lovers who are not who God gave us. Otherwise, it will poison our life.
11.) Cry out that you are forsaken and that you are thirsty, but also allow God to answer.
12.) "Are you fruitful?" The answer is already set to that question: yes you are fruitful because of your love for one another. But the real question is "Is there something more God would like to give us as a couple?" "What is the more God wants to give us?"
13.) Children are ________. After you fill in the blank, go seek that out. Let God fill it. Pray about it.
14.) Adoption is primarily about loving the child (and helping the birthmom), but there is no reason why it can't also be about your personal healing too. True, adoption doesn't take away the pain of infertility completely, but it can contribute to your healing of you wanting to be a mother and a father. And that is okay! God planned it that way to be healing not just for the child but also for the parent. Of course, we shouldn't seek a child out for our personal healing, but it is okay if it comes as a byproduct of trying to love a child who is coming from a hard place.
15.) For the men who struggle with infertility: are you strong enough to be weak?
16.) "Hearing is letting the conversation happen; listening is the work of the will." - Deacon Tony
17.) Say everyday to your spouse: "Have a good day with the Lord."
18.) Fatherhood and motherhood is also everyone's deepest identity and it is rooted in the loving self-gift you give and not just children you have. Pray about it.
19.) Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.