As a married Catholic lay woman, it is perhaps surprising (not least to me) that my personal vocation and the mission I have with my husband does not include children of our own. The moment people I meet know I am married, it is almost always followed up with the question, “Do you have children?” And when I say that I do not, the next response often varies between something like, “Oh, not yet?”, “Don’t worry, I will pray for you!” or “Do you plan to adopt?”
A few years ago I blogged about our discernment regarding children in our marriage (see this post), and the story has not changed except to become even clearer. On Pentecost Sunday 2015, there was an adorable little boy who sat a little ahead of us during mass and who participated most fully in the mass. And though we did not notice each other doing so, both my husband and I were watching the little boy and thinking how beautiful it would be that if we had a child, he or she would be that adorably immersed in the mass. For the first time in a long time, I felt my heart tug wistfully. Little did I know that God had put that little boy in our sights to communicate His will to us.
During my personal prayer after communion, I suddenly received a mental image. In it I saw my husband and I on mission, our hearts full of joy and purpose, and there were many people streaming into our lives and streaming out. In my inner heart I felt a certainty that this image showed the purpose for which God created us, it was our mission and vocation. Suddenly, I noticed that in that glorious image, we had no children. And then I knew with a certainty I could not explain that God was telling me definitively that the abundant life He calls me and my husband to was one of a married partnership without our own children, and that it was GOOD.
The moment we exited the church after mass I turned to my husband excitedly and told Him that God had spoken to me at mass. With shining eyes, my husband looked at me and said that God had also spoken to him. Our hearts were burning like the disciples on the road to Emmaus as we shared what had happened to each of us during mass. It turned out that my husband had also been looking affectionately at that same little boy and thinking similar thoughts as I had when he received a knowing in his heart, “This is not for you.” Rather than sadness or disappointment, that message filled his heart with peace. It was then he realised, as I had, that without our asking, God had provided an answer so that we would not have to wonder anymore.
The truth is that we are parents to children not our own and to parent in a way that perhaps is not easily understood. We are called to come alongside and to help souls be birthed into a relationship with God, or to help souls who seek a deeper relationship with God by befriending them in spiritual friendship. Perhaps the image that comes to mind is that of spiritual foster parents – we receive those whom God sends for however long or short a time. We do not hold on to anyone so that our hearts and hands remain open and ready, and every soul we let go of we let go into the loving hands of God. It is a kind of spiritual parenting that calls us to be loving yet utterly detached (which we struggle to be at times). It has taken us many years to come to this clearer picture of the kind of parenthood God has given us in our marriage.
So do we have children? Yes – we are blessed to be asked to foster God’s children spiritually. There have been so many that we don’t even know the count, and we don’t bother counting. Like other parents we began clueless and made many mistakes, hurting both our children and ourselves. But with love, grace and more experience, we are maturing as parents as we re-learn how to be a child of God. It is my hope that one day when I stand before Christ at the end of my journey, He will show me the extent of my motherhood, and that it would be vast beyond anything I had imagined!