“You will never know real love,” said the preacher, “Never experience the full extent of God’s love, until you have had a child.”
I was a teenager then. Young, passive and impressionable. The preacher’s words certainly made an impression on me that day. Gee, non-parents must miss out big time.
These days, I am not so young, not so passive and definitely more cynical. I think back to those preacher’s words with mild horror. Was he suggesting, I ask myself, that those who do not have children will never experience the fullness of God’s love?
Such a sweeping generalisation about children can divide people into two camps: the haves and the have-nots. It has the capacity to cause separation. It can cause deep hurt and even harm to people’s faith.
Perhaps the preacher did not mean it. Perhaps what he meant to say was, “Since I have had children, I have experienced God’s love in a whole new way.” Nothing wrong with that. Perhaps he should have said what he meant.
A childless woman I recently spoke with told me her Catholic priest once expressed similar notions during Mass. This priest apparently went on to speak of parenting as the most valuable thing one can do. Not just one of many valuable things, but the most valuable thing.
The childless woman left Mass that day feeling bereft and devalued as a person. When I heard her story, it hurt my heart. I wonder how many others feel like her.
I tend to use humour and satire to cope with these issues. My instinctive and satirical reaction, when I hear people say, “You’ll never know God’s love until you have a child,” is to say, “Well then, I guess I’m doomed.”
Too bad that I have known the love of a husband. Too bad that I grew up knowing the love of parents, siblings, aunt, uncles and grandparents. Too bad that I have known God’s love in a real and tangible way since I was a little girl. Apparently none of this even comes close to the love of a child.
This kind of harmful teaching, besides being insensitive, elitist and un-Biblical, is simply untrue. The love of a child is not superior to any other. I agree that the love of a child is unique. (I mean, I assume it is.) But many other forms of love are just as unique.
The love of a best friend is a special thing. The sense of community found in a church is a wonderful thing. The love of a dog is beautiful too. I personally have been embraced by the extravagant love of many friends, family, pets, churches, a husband and God over the years. This is real love. It is in no way diminished by the absence of children.
I am certain that God will never reject me on the basis of failing to conceive a child. Neither should society. And neither should the church.