Tuesday, June 29, 2010

spiritual direction

Like getting an S/A done, this is one of those things that I pull off around the time everyone is despairing of my even remembering that I said I would. What can I say? I march to the beat of my own drummer, and he's been dead for a while now.

So, anyway, as I mentioned at one point, I made several forays into finding a spiritual director, and was stymied in ways that indicated to me that superior forces were refusing to bless my efforts. I took the hint and quit. A few weeks ago, the subject was raised again by none other than my dear husband. You know, the recent religious skeptic/quasi-deist...who said, out of the blue, "I really should have helped with this before. I have a friend who's a priest who would be a great spiritual director, and I got in touch with him and he said he'd be happy to do it. He's insisted on meeting with me [my DH] first, and then I'll introduce you."

I was a bit shocked, and insisted it would only be fair that I meet the fellow before deciding, but it seemed like a good development.

However, my DH is traveling for work again very shortly, and has been very busy finishing things before he goes. And he hadn't raised the matter in a while, so I figured another door had closed. Then, this weekend, he told me that he was having dinner with his friend (hereinafter code named "Father" - heh, heh) on Monday, and might drop by with him afterward so I could meet him. Sometimes, the things I claim to want sneak up on me at a point when I am not emotionally prepared. I was apprehensive, but what was I going to say? No?

Anyway, my DH called last night while I was in the middle of errands, but I was good and came home. His friend the priest was, well...not what I was expecting. You may recall (or share) my concern that most priests would not be able to deal well with the travails of an infertile woman. Certainly, at minimum, I would expect it would require someone a bit older, and Father is around my DH's age (a few years older than I am). I'm not going to try to describe him personally because I'll fail and anyway lose the point. But he kicked my DH out of the living room for a walk (in the horrible heat - my DH is a prince, really) so he could talk to me, which I elected not to protest, and told me my DH had briefed him on the IF and associated issues (we've had some very emotional, but good, talks about this recently), and I should tell him about it.

Though I may not be known for brevity, I guess blogging has helped me organize my thoughts on the matter. I managed to get the last several years of my life, and why I'm so disappointed with where I am, into a paragraph or two - not really brief, but brief for the subject matter. There's other things I could go into besides the IF, but I figured I would stick with that for the time being. And he said some things that rather shocked me.

First of all, since I started planning to seek a spiritual director, my idle mental energy has not infrequently been devoted to playing out arguments in my mind - all the things I'm going to have to convince him of before I can get anywhere with the topic of infertility. The confessor's remark that I'll get pregnant "in God's time" rings in my ears still. Obviously, priests have been given no training on how to deal with this subject or what it really entails. But if that's true, I'm at a loss to explain Father's reaction, unless he just went to a seminary in a different universe, or he has been plagued with a bevy of infertile women as directees (seriously, there will be no Purgatory time for any priest who has that happen) since the moment he was ordained.

For one thing, he never tried even to suggest that the problem would be solved when I got pregnant. Gold star for that. That's not remotely helpful. Instead, he said that it was absolutely not OK that I was infertile, and that it would never be OK. Just like the death of someone you love - you may re-attain a place of peace, and even live a life of happiness and joy, but the fact that that person is gone will never be all right. It will always be grievous, always a loss, this side of heaven. (This makes sense to me on an intellectual level, but it may be important to note here that I have never lost someone really close to me to death.) I can get used to the idea as much as I want, but the fact that I wanted children and am childless will not ever be fine.

This is not something I really wanted to hear; I wanted to hear that I was suffering with it now because I had not processed the grief, and that eventually, I would get to a place where it would be just fine - no more a wound than the difference between having six children and eight. But I believe what he said is true. I've been searching for witnesses in the form of women who've accepted childlessness and moved on with their lives (and have found beautiful and inspiring examples), but it's my feeling that their joy and full lives are not regardless of their infertility and childlessness, but in spite of infertility (which makes them that much more impressive, really). The difference between having a family and not being able to have one is not a matter of indifference, nor a matter merely of having one's subjective preference frustrated. It's intrinsically important and its loss is a serious loss. I believed that already, but was hoping that I was wrong.

He also said that the desire to have a family was both a natural and a right one; it's part of my vocation to marriage and I was right to expect it to be fulfilled. He actually explained something I know he must have been taught - some part of theological anthropology, or psychology, maybe - that some crosses are specially heavy because they are vocational, relational, and physical (thus, we can't work with and improve them, as we could emotional or spiritual afflictions). The archetypal of these is the death of a person. (That's not a cross for the dead person, of course, but for the survivors.) I wanted to ask him what else would belong in that category and more about the theory behind it, but I'll get another chance to do that. On subsequent reflection, I think I've thought of another example, but I'll check with him to see whether I've understood right.

Obviously, he said that infertility belongs to this type of cross. It's not like having a bad time at work; that's not vocational or relational, or physical. It may be a cross, even a heavy one, but it doesn't erode who you are, and it may be passing. I also shared with him my concern that it wasn't just that I don't have children, but that I don't feel I have anything I'm supposed to do with my life; that I've been robbed of a purpose as well as a family. He thought that was valid but stressed (lest you think he was just depressing) that I will eventually find the thing I am supposed to do, and that though the cross won't ever be gone, it can be transformed - that the spiritual element of motherhood that's missing for the infertile woman will eventually be fulfilled in some other aspect of life. Which, he clarified, does not have to mean adoption, or dealing with children at all.

I told him honestly at that point that I would fight the desire to be maternal to anybody (which I have done for a while, but did not do always). I can't bear others' evaluation of my "maternal tendencies" any more, and I can see that they are watching me. I had rather be believed - or be - a heartless sociopath than that poor girl who's trying to mother her friends, strangers, dog, because she hasn't any babies...I know myself that that attitude isn't healthy, but it's how I feel. He didn't endorse that mode of behavior either, for the record, but he was understanding about it :).

I also told him my prayer life was substantially gone, and he said, of course, that I should work on that. So I'm starting on 15 mintes of reflections a day, which I think I can handle (good grief. How could I dispute that? And I remember my last spiritual director, who said that nearly three hours of devotions a day - what I was doing then - would be fine "for now"). He was also firm on the point that if I'm angry with God (yes), I should tell Him so directly. I know, Sew already said that this was important and really helped her. (I should always listen to Sew.) And I've thought about it, but I've been too annoyed with God to give Him the satisfaction of yelling at Him about it. I rant to third parties instead. Apparently, that does not yield the same fruit.

Obviously, I have a lot to work on, and I'm just starting. Even having a spiritual director appear in my life is an incredible blessing of which I am not insensible. I am grateful for my husband, who is a wonderful man (even though I badger him and whine about him). But I thought, perhaps, some of this might be some use to another infertile gal.


  1. It is quite impressive to read this and watch how all of it unfolded for you. I have to say, you hit the nail on the head with your explanation of why you choose not to "mother" other people's children or animals. I do the same thing, to an extent. I know people are watching me, wondering how I'll act, and I hate to have people's pity or to do anything that would encourage them to think I'm desperate to mother anything that has a pulse.

    And Father seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders. I'm sure I'll be back to read through this post again (and possibly again after that) to let the lessons he gave you sink in, as I'm sure they'll be helpful for me too. So, are you open to documenting all of your spiritual direction meetings so that I can benefit? Just kidding! Kind of.

  2. I really admire you for this. Infertility has caused me to struggle immensely with my faith -- but my recent miscarriages have eroded it almost completely. I like the explanation that things will NEVER be okay -- because that is honestly how I feel now. I used to believe that once I had children, no matter how long it took or how difficult it was, I would be fine. Now, I know that I will ever be the same person I was before. Infertility and loss will always color my outlook on life, always.

    Hugs to you,

  3. I am so happy to hear this! Doesn’t it make it just a tiny bit better when someone understands and validates the things you are feeling rather than telling you “it will all work out later”? I hope this spiritual direction is fruitful for you. I know it isn’t easy.

    Pray Hope Don’t Worry said the same thing to me: It’s okay to be mad at God. He understands anger and would rather you talk to Him about your anger rather than ignore Him. Now, no matter how many times I have said this exact same thing to others, it took her saying it to me for me to take it to heart and act upon it.

    I like Father’s analogy to death. I have lost a person close to me so I completely relate to you being able to move on and have a happy life, but it not taking the place of that person or erasing that pain. Like you, I wish that wasn’t the case, but the fact that it is only proves just how important that person (or that loss – i.e. children) was and is. I think it would be wrong for it to be the other way. If we were able to go on without ever caring again about that loss, can we really say it was a true loss?

  4. What a blessing that your husband helped you finally find a spiritual director, and one who sounds like the perfect person to help you with the areas that you want to work on.

    I, too, think that Father's death analogy is perfect. Mothering is part of my current job description (as a nanny) so I can't really get away from it, even if I wanted to (without having to find a new job).

  5. He sounds like a good one to talk to. I'm glad to hear he's not minimizing your pain or telling you that you should eventually "get over" your infertility.
    Glad to hear your Hubby brought him to you, too. I like that initiative :).

  6. Wow! I am so impressed at how this person came into your life, is already helping, and how dh was so helpful in the process. I am so encouraged about this and totally jealous-I
    NEED spiritual direction myslef!

  7. i like what he had to say. i'm going to think about that this afternoon.

  8. I hope you continue to share those things you feel you can. It was really helpful for me as well! Truly amazing how those pieces fell into place.

    True also about preferring being thought a heartless career woman than frustrated mother. I lied to a friend in Vienna about our plans, but I wasn't prepared for the question and I didn't want her to feel sorry for me.

    We don't seem to have Fre (which I am familiar with because my brother in law is diabetic and doesn't drink). I suppose I could mix grape juice and soda water, but the bottle is part of the experience. At least there's decaf coffee.

  9. thank you so much for posting about this. I am so interested in the types of crosses you describe, and how some crosses can eat away at your very self. I understand (at least intellectually) that God can bring good out of any situation and bring growth to us wherever we are; but that erosion of our selves also speaks to me as dh and I have been in situations like this before - and currently are, as with unemployment.

    I am amazed at how suddenly the spiritual direction appears to have been gifted to you when you least expected it - I hope it will bring you many gifts - among them - peace, joy, freedom. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Your next to last paragraph described/describes me exactly. I am still working on my prayer life and anger at God even now as a mother of 21 months. I really enjoy reading your thoughts about faith and infertility because they always resonate with me.