Tuesday, June 16, 2009

what if

Today I went to a farewell lunch for a colleague. He's leaving his congregation after 18 years, but leaving under not-so-great circumstances. Honestly, he probably should have retired awhile ago, and when you couple that with a pretty unhealthy congregation which has been trying to get him to leave by treating him like complete crap...it's not good. So it wasn't the most uplifting experience.

He's bitter and angry, and he puts a very thin veneer of sarcastic humor over that as an attempted cover-up, which only serves to highlight the bitterness and anger underneath. I don't entirely blame him - he feels underappreciated and forced out, and both of those are true. Although he's a good guy and he means well, I don't think he has too many skills for the pastoral work, so I also have some sympathy for his congregation: essentially, he's been marking time there for years, just trying to get to retirement, and that can't be fun for anybody. Again: not an uplifting equation when you put it all together.

But for today, the thing I couldn't stop thinking about wasn't his work, or whether he's good at it, or whether his congregation has been mean to him. He and his wife never had children. I have absolutely no idea why: for all I know, it could have been an intentional decision on their part, and I could be wasting my empathy over a completely-imagined infertility situation. I really don't know this guy that well, so I have no intention of asking him about it.

But the thing is, I don't think he's just bitter and angry about his job situation. He seems to have a lot of regrets about life, and I wonder if childlessness is one of them. He and his wife are so timid and afraid of risk, worried about taking any chances, waiting for the ax to fall - and all I could think of, the whole lunch, was this sentence, running like a refrain in my head:

I don't want to be like that. Please, let me not be like that.

I've been thinking about childlessness lately. I'm not ready to go down that path, don't get me wrong, but my big thing right now is this: if I don't have kids, then I do not want to spend my whole life wishing for a life I never had. I do not want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that I missed all the good because I couldn't move through the disappointment of not having kids.

I plan to go see Up as soon as I can get a free evening to go to the movies, and it's possible that reading all the reviews of it from fellow Stirrup Queens has planted this "what if?" in my head. What if we don't have kids? Would it be the end of the world? Would our lives be worth living? Would we be haunted by regrets forever?

I don't know what will happen if we get to that reality. All I know is, if I don't ask the question now, if I am too afraid to even let it inside my head, then I am giving it too much power. I am letting the what if take over my life. And if we decide to live childless, then I do not want to be bitter and angry about it. I do not want people to look at my life and wonder, "what on earth happened to her that she's so unhappy?" And most of all, I do not want to look at my own life and realize I wasted it regretting something I simply couldn't change.

I'm just living with the "what if?" for awhile. It's getting less scary.


  1. good for you to be able to do that. i'm not ready to face that thought and banish that "what if" whenever it pops up. this really made me think though... perhaps i would be less terrified of it, if i allowed my thoughts to go there from time to time.

  2. wow, you're doing REALLY good work, friend. hard, but good emotional work. and you're still in my prayers as you do it! love to you.

  3. That is a really big question, with a lot of emotional implications. I am impressed at how much reflecting you are doing...

    As I go through this pregnancy and after each miscarriage, I thought "what if..." about a thousand things. I think you are determined to be a happy, contented person, whatever happens, but I am SURE you will have a child if you want to keep on going.

    I am thinking of you often... when do you head back to our Dr. S?

  4. Kudos to you for grappling with that scenario in advance, and for realizing that you have assign the degree of power it has over you. Going through IF is such a painful journey, and there are definitely no guarantees. Although it isn't healthy to wallow in the negative what if's, there is great value in pondering them and attempting to identify your feelings about the potential outcomes. Here's hoping you never have to learn to live with your childless life, but congrats on being resolved to not rob meaning from your life overall should it turn out that way. :)

  5. You said it right! I want to be complete as the person I am, and in my marriage. That way, a baby is icing on the cake, but no matter what, I had an awesome piece of cake. Regrets and what if's sure can rob us of joy.