About two years ago I realized I was deathly afraid of being pregnant.
There’s plenty of different, crazy reasons for that, but let me just emphasize that it was enough to have me crying once a week or so and visiting an EMDR therapist once a week for about two years.
(Now that I’m pregnant, though, I can reassure everyone that pregnancy a natural, miraculous process and I’m deeply grateful that God gave me this gift.)
The process of coming to terms with my fears took a lot of prayer, a lot of EMDR, and a lot of reading. (TMI alert) Throughout this time, we didn’t use any birth control. So this was more a process of trying to open my heart to something God might give to me at any time. And I’m sure we can all relate to that feeling of wanting something more than life itself…. And being abjectly terrified of getting it at the same time.
For me, it was heart-wrenching. But that’s when the magic happened — Jesus kept sending me people, words, and books that would help me take the leap of faith and open my heart to pregnancy.
This post could easily focus on our culture’s pervasive (and permissive) contraceptive, anti-baby mentality, but I figured we’d keep it nice and personal. For so many of us, it doesn’t matter why we think we’re better off without marriage or babies — it just matters how we break through those walls and come around to loving the way God loves — freely, totally, faithfully, and fruitfully.
Here are the four quotes (and the tangled spiritual crises behind them) that did it for me:
I Realized I Wanted to Surrender My Life For Love
If you find mass boring, or if you don’t get why Catholic mass is so different from worship services of Christian denominations, the best thing you could do for yourself is read Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper.
Since this is a book about the mass, you can imagine my surprise when I was on my 1.5-mile morning walk in early January this year and heard Hahn’s voice over the audiobook telling me, in a way, that unless I become open to pregnancy, I’m stifling my very purpose of being and using my free will to opt out of God’s overpowering, overwhelming love:
“Man’s primal need to worship God has always expressed itself in sacrifice: worship that is simultaneously an act of praise, atonement, self-giving, covenant, and thanksgiving. The various forms of sacrifice include one positive similar meaning: Life is surrendered in order to be transformed and shared.”
Surrender. Transform. Share. That’s what Christ did for all of us, and that’s what he’s asking all of us to do in order to become like him. So when I refuse to surrender my life because of the physical comfort and health I crave, or the version of the story our culture gives us (pregnancy is dangerous and risky, kids limit you, cost too much, tie you down, ruin your relationship, etc), I’m really just limiting my own life.
So, I had to wonder: How much do I love my husband? How much do I love God? What do I surrender to him? To Him? For Josh, there’s our marriage together. I surrender a lot of my time and effort to our relationship. I give thanks for him, and I praise him when I can remember to (which I’d like to do more). But what does this emotional limit I place on our marital union — this inability to surrender my life in that way — say about how much I’m willing to love him?
So, so much of this surrender is about past hurts.
In fact, that’s part of what made it so hard to surrender to God in the first place. I’ve been hurt by the people and things I surrendered to before. My mistake, though, was that those things weren’t God, so of course they hurt. The only way you can NOT get hurt is to surrender to the one true God. In this case, it means surrendering through the covenant of marriage — through free, total, faithful, and fruitful marital love.
Within this surrender to God, I was able to see how he asks us to surrender our entire selves to our spouses through the sexual act. Such an exchange that is so giving and mutual that it literally has the power to create new life, if that’s God’s plan for your relationship.
So, I realized that in the life I had built for myself, I was trying to avoid letting God’s love transform my love into something bigger than myself. I was literally limiting what I wanted God to do for me and for us. And we all know what happens to something that’s alive and stops growing: it dies. So, if I wanted my love to grow, I needed to open my heart to letting it literally be shared and transformed into new life.
I Realized I Want to Suffer for Love
The world we live in says, “If you feel good, you’re doing things right. If you feel bad, something is wrong.” But what does this mean to Christians, when the whole point is to pick up the painful cross Jesus has placed in our lives and renounce our will in order to follow him?
That’s where the problem of pain and suffering comes in, and Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire podcast explained they’re both united with love. When it comes to realistic, spiritually mature suffering (not the immature stuff that’s more like “draaaaaaama”), it’s the whole reason we’re here.
Far from telling us to escape suffering, the Church tells us to embrace it, find meaning in it, and carry it for Jesus. This act of self-sacrificial love is how we become saints and how we become the kind of people who will be happy in heaven — and it also allows us to achieve true joy.
The sacrifice of the self in true love is the solution to suffering and pain. That’s basic formula takes shape in different ways in different relationships, and in the marital relationships it shows up as being open to life. It suddenly became so clear that God was asking me to submit to the suffering that could come from pregnancy, but not because I have to or women should be pregnant or babies are worth it, but because that’s the way to love the way Jesus loves.
Bishop Barron’s podcast explains this perfectly in the podcast I listened to before we conceived our baby (yes, thanks to Creighton charting, we basically know the date of conception!). We lose the things we hold on to. But when we open our hand, we get more than we ever thought we’d get. So, as I tried to hold a death grip on my health, I could see that doing so would close up my life to so much joy and love. And the podcast ended with this heavy-hitter:
“Want to be happy?… Lose your life in love and you will find it. Give your life away as a gift, and you’ll come to resurrection.”
(And let me tell you — it’s more true than I ever imagined it could be.)
I Realized Sex and Marriage Is a Gift, Not an Obligation
Our culture teaches us that women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex (at least, that’s what my mom shared with me when I was young in an effort to protect me from being roadkill in this process). And anywhere in between there, you should “get yours” and do what you want, because life is about feeling good, and free sex will empower you. But the Catholic Church (and experience) teaches the opposite.
If you actually look at what the Church teaches (and not what former, poorly catechized Catholics think it teaches, or what anti-Catholic individuals say), but what the Church actually teaches in the catechism and in Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, what we do with our bodies is beautiful, important, and unimaginably powerful.
In the way that our souls have dignity, our bodies have dignity. And that’s the real reason it’s unhealthy and disordered to do it all over the place with everybody. Not because we aren’t free to do so — but because it twists and fragments our understanding of powerful, real, and sacrificial love.
We are spiritual beings with bodies. Both are important, and both are reflected in each other — for better or worse. Both also have a purpose, whether we want to believe there’s a purpose beyond pleasure or not. And when we have sex, we’re doing something with both our body and soul. If you think you can separate those processes and just get the physical stuff out of it while shutting off the mental stuff (or trying to make the mental stuff a short-term, non-committal affirmation), you’re wearing away at your own soul.
Here’s CS Lewis to express what I mean:
“The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.”
Sex, then, is not just a physical function that serves my or my husband’s lust. It’s a higher calling that allows us to make the sacrament of marriage — that promise, and that complete self-giving — every time we make love. And that complete self-giving love is what “opts in” to God’s love, which can transform our love into new life.
How beautiful is that?
I Realized That Pain Is Growth, Not Punishment
This quote is kind of cheating because it came across my Facebook feed after I was pregnant. But it feels like a love note scrawled from God to reaffirm that I’ve said yes to what he wanted:
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
Our culture right now tells us that love is whatever we want. If we want a person, then love means getting to “have” that person — or even use that person. If we want to live a certain way, then love means everyone in our lives loves us only if they will let us live that way.
Catholics completely disagree.
Love is not self-indulgence, self-pleasure, and selfishness. Love — real love, the kind of love God gives — is sacrificial, challenging, and overwhelming. If the love you have doesn’t ask you to change anything about yourself, it’s not love. It’s self-indulgent, and it’s a way for you to live the life you want free from responsibility.
But I don’t mean to be a downer about the whole thing, or make it out like Catholics like pain because they think it’s love; everything I’m saying is just the build up to the unbelievably deep, satisfying, exciting, and beautiful love that comes out of this kind of suffering.
It’s seriously magical! It’s everything those rom-coms promise but can’t deliver on, because the rom-coms ignore all the rules to get to that ending — but it’s only through the natural laws and the suffering that you can actually achieve that kind of love.
To put it perfectly, through help from CS Lewis and George MacDonald, God loves you just as you are, but he will never be satisfied with you just as you are. He wants the best — His best — for all of your decisions, and until we decide that we want what God wants more than we want what we want (stay with me here :) ) we’ll only ever arrive at our small, miserable, and humanly-limited definition of happiness… and love.
Living With These Quotes IRL
So, here I am, pregnant. Living my worst fear, day after day. I really believe that if I’m to be a saint, it’s through being a mother. But not because motherhood is a great blessing (which it is), but because so many of my sins have built up a wall in my heart against being one. I’ve listened to this world too much, seen too much, and been hurt too much to embrace these changes innocently. So I thank God that he sent these Catholic quotes my way to help me start breaking down that wall, one brick at a time.