I met Bekah Shaffer at a speaking conference last year. As I learned more of her journey, I asked her to write a post for you. Her words are important. I learn a lot from her commitment to God. I’d love to hear what you learn from her story:
My husband and I have been married just over five years, and the first thing people ask after learning our names is whether or not we have children. When we say no, we watch the awkward panic cross their faces, as they try to figure out how to continue the conversation without asking the wrong next question.
We’ve decided to have mercy on well-meaning new friends by assuring them we don’t have children because God hasn’t led to be parents. It turns out a surprising number of people don’t know how to respond to that either. And usually the response turns out something a bit like pity-filled forgiveness for accepting a second-rate life.
Don’t misunderstand me. We love kids. In fact, I was a babysitter all throughout my teen and college years and always expected I would grow up to be a mom. It’s what people did, and I was a person, so why should I be any different? Then my whole life took a turn I never anticipated: I didn’t get married until I was 34.
I had ached, dreamed, and prepared for marriage for years. I assumed I would meet my husband in college, we would marry the summer after graduation and have a couple of kids shortly after that. And as the husbandless years passed, I realized motherhood may never happen for me. I also realized my highest calling was to be a wife, even if I never became a mother. My love for children hadn’t changed, but I knew God was awakening in me other desires that may not include parenting.
In one of the million conversations Ryan and I had while we were dating, we talked about children. Did we want to have them? We discovered that we both love children, but neither of us felt particularly called to become parents ourselves. We decided we would leave that up to the Lord. If He wanted us to adopt a child somewhere down the road, our hearts were open before Him to joyfully accept that call. But if He had plans for our marriage that called our focus elsewhere, we were equally open before Him to gladly accept whatever call He issued.
We hadn’t even been home from our honeymoon a full month yet before we were hit with the question the first time: were we pregnant yet? We were basking in the love story God was writing and already people expected more from us. In those first couple of years, the question came our way often, and when we said we didn’t have children, the answer was always, “There’s still time.”
After a couple of years, people’s responses changed and seemed to split down the middle according to how they felt about their own parenting decisions. Half told us “You don’t know love until you have a child,” and the other half said, “Smart decision.”
The thing is it’s never really been a decision for us. We are simply open before the Lord for Him to show us our next move.
In this season of our lives, my husband works full time (plus some) and I work as a writer and speaker. Ryan and I have felt led to make my ministry our ministry, because even though I am usually the one talking from a platform, he is always with me when I travel, helping behind the scenes however he can. As the Lord opens more doors for us to travel and share, we’re aware that it would be challenging, if not impossible, for us to serve together in the same capacity we do now if we were parents.
While we are at peace with the call on our lives, we encounter times when it’s not easy to wear the “childless by choice” label.
It’s hard to find our place among our peers, because for the most part, we’re the only ones among them who don’t have children. Sunday School classes for our age bracket are often centered around parenting topics, or sometimes the classes don’t exist at all, because everyone our age is serving somewhere in the children’s department. Our friends are busy on weekends because their kids have games, which means they’re also busy during the week because of practices.
That has actually provided a sweet blessing for us in getting to foster friendships with our single friends and empty nesters, because they tend to have more time. Even so, we experience occasional waves of grief over the lack of time with couple friends our own age.
We’ve also struggled with feeling like we’ve disappointed our families. To be fair, this is probably more my own struggle than it is Ryan’s, but it’s still there. I’ll be honest in saying I’ve slogged through seasons of wondering if we are failing entirely by not giving our parents grandbabies. It can be heart-wrenching to be the oddball of the family who has “nothing to offer.”
But we do.
Whether or not God ever changes the course of our life story where children are concerned, the work He has called us to right now is important and it matters. It is our baby. The work we do involves dozens of hours of preparation, prayer, investment, follow-up, and more. People say that parenting is a full-time job, and that’s true. The work we do is full-time in its own way, and we wouldn’t be able to offer the same level of involvement if we split our time between that and parenting.
So we parent our ministry-child to the fullest. We pray over it, we pour our hearts into it, we go where God opens doors, and we watch as He does beautiful things in the lives of His children. We’ve dedicated our work to the Lord, much like parents dedicate their own offspring, and to watch Him grow and mature our work is fulfilling to us.
Perhaps people will always think we’ve chosen a second-rate life, but we see it differently. We’ve chosen to follow His lead, and so far, His lead hasn’t included parenting a child who lives in our home and shares our last name. But His lead has included ministering to His children, near and far, who are hungry to know Him more.
In Galatians 4:19, Paul writes, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (NIV). That is how we feel about the people God has called us to serve. They are as dear to us as if they were our own, and we delight in our calling to serve them for whatever length of time God desires.
Indeed, it’s not a second-rate life. It’s a first-class privilege to “speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4, NIV)
Bekah Shaffer is a writer and speaker who loves capturing life and sharing it with those around her. She’s the author of two books (His Advent: Still His Greatest Gift and Be Still: Learning to Know He is God), blogs daily about her life adventures and lessons she’s learning, and co-hosts a weekly podcast (Spill the Beans) alongside her husband, Ryan. When they’re not working, Ryan and Bekah love going on unique dates, including their current quest to visit all 92 counties in Indiana to see what fun they can find! Ryan and Bekah make their home in Kokomo, Indiana.