When Generosity Looks Like Selfishness

Well, by now everyone who doesn’t live under a rock has heard the Pope’s comments from his recent trip to Manila. He made quite a few beautiful remarks about large families, being open and generous when welcoming children. Then he made such a splash with “rabbit-gate”, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see a bunny the same way again.

To be perfectly honest, when I read the first few comments about it, I rolled my eyes. I’ve taken to rolling my eyes on the regular when reading commentary regarding Pope Francis.

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled talking about his words, what he meant, what he should have meant, the context, the cadence, and on and on. I almost decided not to write about it, but ultimately wanted to share my thoughts in case anyone else out there is thinking this too, wondering if they are all alone in their pondering. I am nothing if not straight-forward.  I’m from New Jersey, and its a rare occasion when you have to wonder what someone from New Jersey thinks about any particular event.

If you’ll recall, I had twins.


As a twin mom, I’ve come closer to having an actual litter than most women ever will. I actually joked with a friend, “If you think you feel like a rabbit, try having more than one at a time!”

To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t offended by what the Pope said. I can understand how people may have felt otherwise.

There have been times, on more than once occasion, when I have had to stifle tears as a priest waxed eloquently about all of the “good, large families” he was seeing at Mass.  You know,  as opposed to all those small, terrible ones?

You see what I did there? Of course what the priest said was true, but it was also hurtful. Because I was hurting. So yes, even though I was not offended by the Pope’s remarks, I can understand why you might have been. I sympathize. I’ve been there, feeling like you are misunderstood and marginalized in the one place where you have gone to seek solace from the hostility of the world. Our Church.

When I was struggling with the cross of sub-fertility, I often felt the world’s hostility and the Church’s indifference. The world doesn’t understand why we don’t “just do IVF” and people in the Church make assumptions about our level of holiness based on how well our reproductive organs work (or in this case, don’t work). There is no safe space.

If you felt marginalized, humiliated, or offended by the Pope’s words, I’m so very sorry. I know how it feels to be marginalized in your own Church, and it is a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But what I’ve been chewing on a lot these last few days is this: the relationship between responsible parenthood and generosity.

What I’ve come away with: It’s complicated. Just like every other way in which we seek to live the Christian life, there are no easy answers here. No checklist, no bullet points of what “counts” as a good reason to limit family size. There’s no power point presentation with slides of what generosity looks like, everywhere, all the time. There’s no rubric for what responsible parenthood entails.

What there is, is grace. Is prayer. Is conscience. Is that still small voice that speaks in our hearts. Is the tender love of husband and wife, rightly ordered, that God uses to lead us gently toward more generosity. However, sometimes generosity is not another child.

Sometimes generosity is continuing to try, month after month, letting small springs of hope seep into a cracked and weary soul. Sometimes there is no visible proof of this generosity, this hope.

Sometimes generosity is realizing that you can barely handle what you have, and it would simply break you to seek out more.

Sometimes generosity is knowing that your spouse is running a deep sleep deficit, hasn’t had a day to herself in six months, her body to herself in six years, and she’s tired of waking up on empty. It’s the knowing, and the choosing to put her first, since she’s so damn reluctant to do it herself.

Sometimes generosity is diving head first into your past, seeking to revisit and transcend old traumas, hurts, and sufferings so that someday, you might be able to say “yes” to another life. Doing the hard work of caring for yourself, so that you can do the hard, blessed work of caring for them.

Sometimes generosity looks like radical self-acceptance, self-care, and self-preservation, doing what you need to to stay alive for the ones you love.

Sometimes generosity is dying to the part of yourself that sees that longing look in your lover’s eyes and yearns to return it, but you don’t because this time, the blood clot might kill you. So you put on your granny panties and play Scrabble instead.

Sometimes generosity is both spouses working 50 hours a week to pay off education choices made in the haste of pursuing a better life. Both parents working is to keep a roof over their heads, not to pad their savings account.

Sometimes generosity is swallowing your pride to apply for WIC or food stamps, being on the receiving end of judgement from Christians and secularists alike who fault you for being irresponsible, when you were just trying to live your vows.

Sometimes generosity looks like having 3 children ages 4 and under, including a set of twins, and you’ve had one of those days where you have no idea if you can take another step. Then a “helpful” stranger says, “Oh, for sure you’re done, right?”, and you miraculously don’t slap him. You even muster up the courage to say “I don’t know” instead of “Sweet God I hope so!”. Sometimes generosity looks like that. Ask me how I know.

Sometimes generosity might look to all the world like selfishness. Thankfully we don’t give a rat’s ass about what things look like to the world, right? God sees our hearts, and knows us better than we know ourselves. God sees very clearly that sometimes our generosity looks a lot like selfishness.



29 thoughts on “When Generosity Looks Like Selfishness

  1. Awesome post! So glad you are “back”! Not that you we ever gone. I have enjoyed reading your lastest post sometimes I just don’t take the time to comment. As I have 3 children and also work outside of the home 40+ hrs so I feel your pain someone is always needing something. I love how real and honest you always keep it.

    Sarah Dixon


  2. Hi Sarah! I clicked over here through Bonnie, and WOW! This is so great and so very needed in traditional Catholic circles! Thank you!

  3. Sarah – I found your site through “One Catholic Mama.” Thank you so much for writing this. I struggle with this every day – am I being generous enough? Am I doing God’s will? Or am I doing things my way? It takes lots of prayer and careful discernment. And even then things can still be unclear and confusing. Thank heavens we have a good, loving, merciful God.

  4. Thank you, thank you , thank you for saying this. My life looks incredibly selfish right now and I struggle with “knowing” what other people are thinking about me. But I know it’s got to be done and I’ll be so much more able to actually love other people when I get through to the other side.

  5. I stopped over hear early this morning from Bonnie’s place and now I’m back to at least leave a little comment. I’ve pondered this post a number of times today and even forwarded it on to my husband. Even he commented about it this evening and loved it! In fact, he said “I can’t believe you didn’t leave a comment on that post!” At 6 am I just wasn’t ready. 🙂
    I am so happy that I clicked a link for once and found a post that I completely agreed with and wrote words that I so often have thought, but could not write as well. Thank you!
    Oh gosh, how I (we) have struggled with generosity. How many times I have felt “less than” best Catholic/ “good person” because of x,y,z. As a couple, we have had to sit in the pew, be out with other large homeschool families, be surrounded by prolific friends and feel like we look selfish. As a couple who had two children easily, then suffered through 4 years of subfertility, then were blessed with back to back babies (11.5 months apart), there were many times that we bore the burden of what our generosity looked like to others. I cannot so eloquently put into words that fill a space in a blog post as you did. I do, however, know that my wounded heart still seeks healing either inflicted by others or myself for that unexpected judgment and anxiety that comes from our suspected selfishness.
    Again, thank you for the honest post that spoke right to my heart. To find someone that understands and has me nodding with every paragraph, was refreshing to my soul today.
    Thank you.

  6. Oh God bless you. I married thinking that being a good Catholic meant having a baby every 18 months. Now that I have done that for six years, I see that this arrangement is not fruitful for my relationship with my husband. A fruitful marriage isn’t only having babies. We may not even be done with having kids but taking a break or time-out because you want to have something to give your husband or the kids you already have, well this can be fruitful, too.

    Also, faithful Catholics, I think we need to be a bit more discreet when discussing family size and planning. Do you know how many times I have felt pressured by the Opus Dei crowd to have more, more, more? And put them all in private school? This is a discussion that I have with God every day and not somethign I want to talk about with someone who is not intimately involved in the day-to-day raising of these blessings The Lord has entrusted to me.

  7. I wish I could “like” this post more than once. Beautifully written, bravo! (From a Catholic mother of 9 who doesn’t know of she’s done yet).

  8. thank you for writing– I can only speak from the viewpoint of a member of a United Methodist Church. We place a high value on serving and loving other people. Those people might be our own children or they might be people at our workplace or they might be others at our church, or strangers. Truthfully, there are only 24 hours in a day. We can be God’s hands in so many ways. Because I know someone from New Jersey, I should speak my mind. We are called to love and serve people, including ourselves. Because we must nurture ourselves if we are to nurture others. In my church is it just as good to have no children as to have 8 children. We are not to judge others. We can find someone to love and care for. I doubt that God cares how many children we have. But he/she does want us to love other as we love ourselves.

  9. I say “get off the cross….” Christ died to himself and did not publicly announce his hurts, his struggles to indirectly get pity, or sympathy and trying to get your spouses, or families attention…. There are people who would love to be living your reality… And unbeknownst to them are unable to have what Gos has blessed you with…. With His sacrifice came blessings….

  10. Jaime,

    I think maybe you misunderstood my post. I’m not trying to get anyone’s sympathy, pity, or any other thing. In any case, it sounds as though you are hurting and I will pray for you.

  11. Thank-you for your prayers… Your post was well written just seems like even though well worded you are looking or crying out for help… feeling overwhelmed… simply saying… Its a blessing, perhaps in disguise… but to broadcast it seems a little vain… just my thought… perhaps if I walk in your shoes I would not see things the same perspective…We see things from different perspective… I am a little old fashioned and think of women with 19 or 20 children… they all had to die to themselves… Just as Christ did, and he had to carry his Cross, not stay on it…. All the best… just thinking out loud as you…

  12. Thank you for this blog post I did not understand how much grace God offers us Catholic Moms sometimes hurts and tears and thoughts expressed to God he sees more in our hearts and knows the truth. It makes clear God called us within a call to be mothers in our vocation to live that call is never easy but a well worth it journey with God to one day see him and God will be truly thankful us Mothers choose life over death. The culture of life needs to be celebrated more everyday with our families and church communities.

  13. Jaime,

    I’m not sure if you read all the other comments, but if you did, you’d realize how many women were helped by this post. Often times, just realizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles can make them feel so much lighter.

    When you think of those women with many children in the past, also think of the networks of families and friends that existed in those times that so often don’t exist anymore. Many moms now, who would have had sisters and mothers and aunts and grandmothers around in days gone by, are left completely on their own. It can be incredibly lonely. And it can help to know that there are others out there, even if only through a computer screen, who are facing the same battles.

    If you think that this post is vain perhaps you should step back and think of how many women it lifted up. And isn’t that exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down as we help one another towards heaven? Does telling someone that it seemed vain to put their thoughts into words do anything constructive in helping them towards heaven? I can’t imagine it does… but… those are just my thoughts.

  14. As long as “by lifting each other up” we are blowing smoke… if it helps great… and for others it might not …. each their own… take it or leave it…Cheers!

  15. Bible Verses
    Philippians 2:14a (NLT)
    “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you.”

    Philippians 2:14-15 (ESV)
    “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.”

    Exodus 16:8 (The Message)
    “Moses said, “Since it will be God who gives you meat for your meal in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, it’s God who will have listened to your complaints against him. Who are we in all this? You haven’t been complaining to us—you’ve been complaining to God!”

    James 5:9 (NIV)
    “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

    Count your blessings, Be thankful, Be grateful…
    Ask God to help you develop an attitude of gratitude.

    That does not mean that I believe anyone here can’t ask for others to pray and lift each other up, especially in areas that we feel we are struggling…
    Live by faith and believe that “if He brought you to it( this part of your life, this challenge) He will bring you through it….

  16. It didn’t sound like she was complaining, only saying that we should not judge other people based on how large (or not) their families are. And she spoke from her own experience, being vulnerable enough to share personal information so that we, her audience, would know she wasn’t preaching from her picture-perfect life. 🙂

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