My husband and I have no TV or streaming services at home. Admittedly, we do have laptops equipped with internet access that offer plenty of distractions; even so, we aspire to cultivate a sense of truly being present with one another when we are at home together. Sometimes, we achieve this through long conversations; at other times, it’s by cooking together or going for a walk.
Lately, we have enjoyed reading short stories or poetry aloud; we especially love fairy tales and have collected the works of both the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Perhaps this practice serves some deep need we have to relive our childhood as we would have done by reading stories to our children, had we been blessed with them. Possible psychological reasons aside, we have both really enjoyed these fairy tales and have even shared our new hobby with extended family, though I doubt they have enjoyed it as much as we have!
There’s something special about these stories. In their simple expression of timeless truths, fairy tales mysteriously help me to understand the world around me, with all its joys and disappointments, including the often-troubling experience of infertility. I doubt it’s a coincidence that amongst other wise persons, G.K. Chesterton (who, along with his wife, Frances, were Catholics who dealt with infertility) appreciated fairy tales. He said, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
Infertility can seem a bit like a dragon – a ferocious, frightening thing that sometimes seems impossible to overcome. And yet, through fairy tales we learn that even the most dreadful beasts are defeated, often through heroic acts of love. Interestingly, quite a few fairy tales involve couples like us who long for children. Think of Aurora’s parents in Sleeping Beauty, for example – the story says that they “waited and hoped a very long time for a child.” Perhaps, as with the stories of barren women from the Old Testament, there is something about infertility that is emblematic of the human experience (and, if I ever happen to pursue an advanced degree in literature, I think I just found my research topic). Through these stories of men and women who long for a child, both fairy tales and Scriptures show us that darkness is ultimately overcome by the light of Christ.
As I was recently battling some pervasive negative thoughts around my own “dragon” of infertility, I picked up our collection of Hans Christian Andersen tales, thinking to distract myself, and flipped to a random story. It happened to be “The Loveliest Rose in the World” – a title that captured my attention. The story is about a queen who is near death and can only be saved by beholding the most beautiful rose in the world – the one that shows forth the purest love. People begin bringing roses from all over, testing them before a wise man to see if they will provide the cure.
One by one, roses are presented before the wise man. Each rose represents a kind of love, each time increasing in its selflessness. The first rose is brought by a “happy mother” who presents the “rose” of sweetness on her child’s affectionate face. The wise man admits that this is a lovely rose, but it does not cure the queen. The next rose is that of a loving mother caring for her sick child through the night; although the wise man proclaims this rose is “holy and wonderful in its might”, it, too, is not beautiful enough. Only the final rose – which springs forth after the Scripture is proclaimed in which Christ suffered death on the cross to save us – gives life to the queen.
In all its simplicity, this story, “The Loveliest Rose in the World” gave me an important reminder about how to defeat this “dragon” of infertility. There is no denying that the first two roses – those representing the joy and sacrifice of raising children – these are beautiful, and the loss of them is painful. Though I may not experience these “roses” in the fullness of their beauty, I do behold some of their fragrance: through the precious embrace of a niece who is excited to see me, in my instinctual concern for a beloved godson who is ill, and in the conviction to pray for a young adult friend at church who has shared the burdens of her heart with me. Though easy to dismiss, these experiences of love are in fact significant, and truly beautiful to share in.
It’s true that while there are many lovely “roses of love” to behold in this world, which each person may experience to one degree or another, there is none so lovely as that of Christ’s suffering and death for us. This is the “rose” that we are all invited to behold in all its fullness and sweetness. By this story’s conclusion, I am reminded that a life lived with Christ’s sacrifice at its center, in total surrender to Him, will be beautiful because it will reflect His beauty. It is in and through Him that the “dragon” of infertility will be slayed: we will know light where there is darkness, joy where there is sorrow, and new life where there is barrenness.
I pray that each of us in this community may reflect in gratitude on the ways Christ has shown us His love in the past and look forward in hope to new opportunities He will grant us to love and serve Him this new year.
Allie Kleineck has been married to her husband James for six years and lives in Central Texas.