This week Project Pomegranate has offered our “Prepare Yourself, Father’s Day is Coming” Blog series, noting how difficult the Father’s Day season can be for those who have struggled with fertility grief. On this day, this Sunday that is also Father’s Day, we offer this piece by pastor Jake Hall. Thank you, Jake! Also, check out our new book of devotions, Though the Darkness Gather Round!
“Happy Father’s Day” was always something that I said but had never been something that was said to me. Each year, that Sunday would come around and I found myself numbly saying the words to people as I shook hands. On one particular Sunday the weight of making holy space and naming the holiday became especially great. Words failed me that day.
I don’t remember how many years of infertility had passed since we had begun to work towards having a child, but it was several. It had been long enough that we did not mark the time month by month, but year by year. I always tried to be strong for my wife. I always tried to steel up so that I could lead the church in those “family” moments and not lose it. But on this Father’s Day I had expended my reserves and was on empty.
Pastors are in a tough spot anyway. Maintaining an inner life, being mindful of their emotions and mindful of the emotions present in the congregation. I was thankful that Father’s day doesn’t have the same emphasis in the church. Sure, maybe there would be “Doughnuts for Dad” that morning in the preschool area, but worship would not have a huge focus on fatherhood or even use the same kind of irresponsible language that sometimes happens on Mother’s day. (Plus, I was the pastor, I could still swipe a donut without raising an eyebrow)
It wasn’t Father’s Day that slayed me, it was the end of the service. I don’t remember the sermon. I do remember the baby dedication.
These were dear friends; my wife and I were truly glad for the birth of their son. Liturgically, I had to lead the congregation and this family in promises spoken over the young boy and responsibilities of the gathered congregation. Personally, I had to hold a baby boy in my arms and carry him down the aisle without my heart breaking wide open. The collision of those two tasks was almost more than I could handle.
I took baby Luke in my arms. “Meet your family of faith,” I said aloud.
“I will never have a child,” I thought to myself.
I couldn’t calm my inner monologue. On the way back down the aisle I would name the responsibility of the family of faith and training this child. “Will you serve this family by living in such a way that your life is a model of christian living?” I said.
“I will never have a child,” I thought.
Before I handed the child back to the mother and father, I always say, “This child is not your own; he does not belong to you; He is a gift from God, one that you will be giving back to God every day.” My mind became lost wondering, why would we never be so gifted? Why would I never have this moment?
I wondered if they could tell I was breaking right there before them. I wondered if I’d ever be standing on the other side of the altar hearing someone say that to us. I wondered if serving as pastor, with a family made up of other people’s families would be enough to heal my hurting heart. Right there in the middle of the aisle I considered if we may truly never have children. I was done. I wondered if I could even make it back down the aisle
But then I had to pronounce the benediction. Benedictions are good words. Good words for me, and probably others, that day. I was glad to have these words to offer the congregation on this day where Hallmark and the holy had conspired against me. I needed benediction. Each week I close the service by reminding the gathered people who they really are. Before you go, “You should remember who you really are. You are sons and daughters of God. You are friends and disciples of Christ Jesus our Lord. You are gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And the love, the joy, the grace and the justice of God are at loose in this world through your very lives. Now go and serve the Lord with gladness all of your days.
I needed to be reminded of who I was. Not a father. Not strong at every moment. Not beyond being vulnerable. But I was named, beloved and empowered.