Friday, October 17, 2014

Let's talk about "openness to life"

In a Catholic wedding, just before the exchange of vows, the priest or deacon receiving the couple's promises to one another and to God asks a series of three questions. I thought they were part of the vows themselves, but they're actually preliminary questions which allow the vows to proceed, if that makes sense. 
They're conditional, in a way. A sort of final litmus to test the sincerity of the couple entering into Holy Matrimony, making certain the conditions necessary for a valid marriage are in place.
"(Name) and (name), have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?" 
"Will you honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?" 
"Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?"
That last line always gets me. I said those words with such sincerity, and without the faintest idea what I was actually getting myself into.

How hard can it be, right? 

Dave and I were well prepared for marriage and kids, both by the examples we had in our own families and in our varies jobs. We were professional oldest siblings, bossy as hell (well, one of us) and super mature.

We were so set.

Then went and like, had a child of our own and we were all, oooooooohkay, this is a little different then what I was expecting.

With each additional kid we've added to our ranks, I've observed an odd mixture of increasing love and parental competence accompanied by stark, raving terror. Because more kids are more work, yes, but also because with each new baby bump my anxiety level ratchets up another thousand points because love invites loss.

There's a very real point at which openness to life intersects with openness to loss.

There are the more obvious examples; infertility, miscarriage, still birth, infant death, loss of a child, major illness...and then there are the less apparent losses. Loss of autonomy. Loss of control. Loss of income. Loss of (perceived) ability to know the future.

I get why a culture such as ours, hell bent on control and predictability, has such a hard time accepting children. And actually, I don't think it's unique to our time. What is unique is the accessibility and widespread acceptance of contraception.

We still pledge to accept children lovingly from God, but we do so with fingers crossed behind our backs, knowing that at the end of the day, we don't really have to rely on God in that arena in this day and age. I mean maybe we think He'll send a couple our when we're good and ready, hopefully healthy models that tick all the right boxes...but we don't honestly plan on throwing caution to the wind and sailing bravely into the unknown, opening wide to the adventure of marriage and parenthood.

But what if we did?

What if agreeing to accept children lovingly from God was more than just an archaic line in an ancient religious ceremony? What if we actually lived that promise, (and I'm not talking about going quiver full or moving to Arkansas, though we do love a good Duggar episode in this house) giving our future over to God and asking for His plans, not our own, for our families. And what if His answer looked completely different from what we'd hoped?

What if there were no children at all, or only a precious one? What if there were 6, and we felt stretched past our breaking point and ready to drop dead? And what if, no matter what story He wanted to write with our fertility, we bowed our heads and whispered, not my while, but Yours, be done.

Maybe we'd be happier. Maybe our marriages would be richer. Maybe our houses would be destroyed and maybe our hearts would be broken open by disappointment and difficulty and sorrow ... and maybe they would be so much larger for it.

I know this is a crazy thought, but what if God knows better than we do the plans He has for us ... plans for our welfare and not for our woe? Plans to give us a future, and hope?

I struggle every single day with relinquishing control. From my first cup of coffee until my eyes close at night. I have three beautiful children. I've got it made. And I'm so lucky. Why rock the boat? Why be open to more difficulty? Why risk the chance that things might get messy(er)/painful/uncertain?

Well, this is why. Faith like this woman's. That's the kind of boldness I want to practice. That's the stuff saints are made of. Radical openness, wild trust, and abandon to divine providence.

Now, to find the courage. Because quite frankly, it's still a terrifying prospect.

Click here for the rest of the series.


  1. Do Small Things with Love had a great series on openness to life. Our family picture doesn't look like what we'd hoped for, but it is beautiful and we've been stretched beyond imagining by the suffering and loss of the last several years, but also by the incredible joy of a miracle following a seven year wait.

  2. One point, like the link you shared, that I've learned over the last year is that we're also required to "lovingly accept" those childen when they're not "perfect" and when their lives are short. I never grasped that as part of being "open to life" until "life" sprung that on me.

  3. I wonder if couples study their vows before they say them so they actually understand what they are vowing to each other. We were married in the Eastern Rite so we did not have any vows. Is that part of marriage prep in the West?

    1. Yes joanne, If the couple takes a good marriage prep course then this would be part of it. Unfortunately not all prep is equal.

  4. I love how well you've said this. Openness to life does mean so much more than what it first appears to mean.

  5. This is beautiful! Use this on Wednesday please!!!

  6. Great post.

    For me, as an adoptive mom, I struggle because we do have some level of control in whether or not to pursue another adoption (expensive). I crave for our process to feel more natural so me being open to children doesn't feel like me creati

  7. Beautiful Jenny. And thank you for linking to Lindsey!

  8. There's a very real point at which openness to life intersects with openness to loss.
    That is a powerful statement. Yes, and each pregnancy losing...or losing...becomes more pronounced in my own mind. And as I age, I am more aware of the many words that can fill in those blanks.


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