Esget, Christopher. “Pastoral Care for Those Experiencing Infertility and Miscarriages” Lecture, Infertility Ethics Symposium from LCMS Life Ministry and the Concordia Seminary Life team, St. Louis, November 8, 2014.
Pastor Esget introduced his presentation by observing that he is a pastor. As he cares for people he walks with them through all sorts of victories and trials. Some of the events in lives are part of a journey through mistakes. Some are the result of sin, whether ours or the sinful condition of the world in general. Some involve pain, and it is deep pain. He identifies many like Hannah, the mother of Samuel, from the Bible. In 1 Samuel 1 she is clearly experiencing the pain of childlessness, which is different from the pain of childbearing. It is a sign of the loss of life, not of the addition of life. It is full of bitterness, weeping, and anguish.
Esget lists what he calls the crosses of the barren.
disappointment to self and spouse, to parents
“When will you start a family?” Indicates that a married couple (or, for that matter, a single person) is not a real family.
judged as selfish
excluded - not really adults
Think - If you are pregnant we put you on the prayer list. What about people who are trying or hoping for pregnancy?
Esget went on to ask about our cultural catechesis. What does our world teach us about having children?
Having children is a choice - you have autonomy
children or no children a choice of lifestyle
we have control - best to wait until . . . our will dominates
Russell Moore discusses “the god of a self-directed future”
Spiritual challenges in seeking a child
To pursue a career you may need to delay childbearing
After a delay it is more likely to have difficulty
This may lead to guilt, recrimination, resentment
In the fertility war intimacy becomes an urgent and often costly encounter.
What if we had tried one more time?
“The pursuit of a child of one’s own has become a form of idolatry.” We may end up in situations where we think we have failed personally if we have not given birth. At that point, encounters with children tell us again that we have failed, because they are other people’s children.
Esget discusses this situation, calling it the trial of barrenness. He prefers the term “barrenness” to “infertility.” This is because often the psychological impact of having no children is akin to lacking something without which we cannot survive. We feel like we are in a barren wilderness.
We begin to pray and bargain with God.
We ask why God doesn’t answer.
We feel anger, resentment and numbness.
We question whether God is punishing us.
Esget quotes Luther, Isaac and Rebecca “supposed that they were cursed and under God’s wrath.”
What about when a couple conceives?
Pregnancy leads to euphoria.
What about a miscarriage? The euphoria suddenly turns to silent grief.
As a pastor what do you tell her when she asks? Often it is the husband who asks. There isn’t a satisfactory answer. The couple is suffering. God brings healing and sustenance in our times of pain and suffering. But it isn’t a satisfactory answer. The situation is still full of pain.
Everybody ELSE moves on.
Esget talks about a parenting club, the people who know all about watching their children developing. But there is a more secret club than the parenting club. It’s the one where people know and understand our sorrow and grief. This is a difficult club to find because most people never discuss being part of it.
How do we care for people? By “making their cross your cross and taking them to Jesus who has cared for you both.”
Fertility difficulties are a severe challenge. In our grief we need to turn to Jesus. He is the only one in whom we can hope. We are really unable to conceive on our own.
Esget moved on to ask two questions.
- Is my baby in hell? A cold theological rationale is not comforting. We commend the child into God’s hands realizing that God is love. In Psalm 50:15 God tells us to call on him in the day of trouble. We know this is trouble and we call on him, trusting that his grace will be sufficient.
- Did I kill my baby? Esget says to consider the situation of an ectopic pregnancy. The child cannot survive and the mother is not likely to survive. Even though the mother may not have sinned, the pastor absolves her. If she has a guilty conscience, do not minimize it, forgive it. Be present.
Expose and absolve the sins resulting from barrenness, sins such as guilt, greed, anger, etc.
Acknowledge you don’t have words to take away the pain.
Remember that spiritual care takes time.
Pray regularly and publicly for those who are having difficulty with pregnancies and those who have lost children.
Be sensitive to those excluded from having children.
In the end, remember that the Christian’s identity is not in having children or not having children, but in Jesus. We speak of the atonement, not merely forensically, but as Jesus very personally enters into all our human sorrows (Isaiah 533:4).