Prior to and since my writing about spiritual motherhood, it has been a topic I've spent many hours praying over, thinking about, embracing, and resisting.
Since then, there have been two examples that have stood out to me of how our infertility has led me to spiritual motherhood. Both times with adults, some of similar age and some older. One a more negative, lead me to tears, and a "but I don't want this" experience and the other a positive, "I see how these people are my spiritual children" experience.
The first came on a day when there was lots of heavy stuff being shared in the FB group. I was on my way to Mass and offered my intentions for those in the group. One friend posted thanking me for being the spiritual mother of the group. I wish I could say this was the positive experience, but it wasn't. I had my own heavy stuff that day and while I was so grateful to be able to pray for my friends and to fill that role of spiritual mother, the very human side of me responded with (in my head): but I don't want this. I don't want it (infertility) for any of us, but in that moment I was blinded by my own pain, my own lack. I went to Mass and the tears freely fell. I felt sorry for myself. Then I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself. And then I finally quit thinking and just let the emotions, and the tears, flow. It wasn't my proudest moment - reacting so badly to a kind, well-meaning comment that was meant to encourage me.
The second came when I was giving a presentation to an RCIA class on the teachings of marriage in the Catholic Church. A question about couples who marry after childbearing years or in the case of a woman who had a hysterectomy. I was sharing how they can choose to not have the question "Will you accept children lovingly from God...." asked. Then, and I had never had this thought before so I think it had to come from the Holy Spirit as even as the words were leaving my mouth I wondered where it was coming from, I said (this is the gist anyway): I would encourage you to consider leaving that question in, for all men are called to fatherhood and all women to motherhood, both physical and spiritual. For some, it will only be spiritual, and a marriage is supposed to be open to life, open to the gift of new life, of children, but for an older couple or a couple who knows they cannot have physical children, what a statement of faith in a twofold sense: 1) that belief in God's ability to perform miracles and, perhaps more importantly 2) that willingness to see how God will create new life from the marriage, what children will come into it and be nurtured by it, with the understanding sometimes a child does not come in the form of an infant, but rather someone who needs mothering or fathering in a spiritual sense, and that person may even be older than you. For example, as I look around the table and we are having this discussion, you all have become spiritual children to me. It is the fruit of my marriage and the journey we have traveled that has led me to this table tonight.
As the words left my mouth, as I said, I wondered where they came from, and I knew where they came from all at the same time. And as I said them, a filmstrip of people and names played in my head, of those to whom I've been called to mother, some for a long time and others briefly. But, each person I was called to mother was a direct result of my vocation as wife, of the road The man and I have traveled as husband and wife. While I know there have been others, like my students when I was teacher that I always referred to as "my kids,"but this filmstrip was specific, it was showing me how my infertile marriage has not been infertile at all.
To say that my tears from the prior experience seemed even more ridiculous and that I was even more ashamed of them would be an understatement.
And yet, as I write this a quote from Pope Francis is coming to mind:
Sometimes in our lives tears are the lenses we need to see Jesus.
Without the tears of infertility, specifically those over spiritual motherhood and my resistance of it, would I have been able to see?
Pope Francis went on to say (emphasis mine):
Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace of tears - it is a beautiful grace. And ask for the grace to be able to say with our lives, "I have seen the Lord," not because He appeared to me, but because I saw Him with my heart.
My constant prayer for the past 3 1/2 years has been for grace. 3 1/2 years ago, I rarely cried. The tears that have been shed have been more numerous than I thought possible and caught me off guard more than I care to recall. There was even a moment recently when two choleric women shed tears together - we laughed as we shared tissues over how "this doesn't happen to us."
To think that these tears, these lenses through which I have come to see Jesus in a way that goes beyond words, are part of the answer to my prayers for grace? To think that maybe that pain that I was so frustrated by led me to see Him better? I fight the pain and the tears so fiercely. I am so often ashamed by them, but what if they are what is leading me to Him?
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If His grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.
( from How He Loves Us, David Crowder Band)