“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

We often hear this verse during this season of Lent. It holds both a beautiful and challenging message, and for many of us on this path, it may stir up mixed emotions. While none of us naturally enjoy the idea of loss and death, we do experience the mysterious link between death and new life, which this passage lifts up. I have received unexpected solace by meditating upon this verse recently, as I ponder the beautiful but difficult link between dying to self and the conditions of true fruitfulness.

When I heard this verse at Mass a few weeks ago, I immediately thought of the monthly loss of hope for a child. Those of us longing for and praying for a child experience a true loss every cycle. Our dream to be mothers and fathers repeatedly dies – at least for another month. So many grains of wheat fall from our hearts and die at the sight of another negative test. These losses – each of a conception that wasn’t – are a true grief. We may be told by others or tempted to believe that only a miscarriage or infant loss merits true grief, but this isn’t true. Primary infertility is a real loss to be grieved – a real death to self. In order to heal and keep our hearts soft and avoid bitterness, we must accept this truth and allow it to shape our healing journeys. Denying the reality of our loss will only keep us trapped in the lies of the evil one and slow, if not prevent, our healing.

On a hopeful note, recognizing this grief allows us the opportunity to see it as the death to self that it is and to offer it to Jesus. We can invite Him into our wounds and ask Him to touch us and heal our broken spirits. Another cycle without conception, and the resulting death to self that must occur as we process this reality, is our grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying. Our incredible desire for parenthood falls and dies, but it will bear much fruit.

Within this space of Catholic infertility support, we often talk about “creative fruitfulness.” There is so much beauty in this idea and in its pursuit. When our families don’t look the way we’d planned, we can find it life-giving to discern the ways Our Lord is inviting us to bear unique fruit in our lives and marriages. We may feel joy and meaning through reaching out to others, or creating things, or participating in prayer groups. To the extent that these activities bring peace and joy, we should seek them out.

That said, I have noticed a tendency in myself and others to hyper-focus on works of mercy and charitable giving and deeds, since we have “extra” time and/or money. It is almost like we feel guilty about the circumstances God has placed us in, and we rush in to prove our goodness and usefulness through myriad actions. Without children, we feel we need to find other ways to “prove” our fruitfulness to ourselves and those around us. Perhaps we may be afraid that we really are barren and that our very selves are unworthy. From our Faith, however, we know the primacy of being over doing. We have inherent dignity and goodness, just in existing! Just as we cannot reduce a couple to the number of children they have, we cannot reduce ourselves or our fruitfulness to our external actions or charitable activities.

We are fruitful by bearing our cross of infertility with as much love as we can. Full stop. Suffering that is united to Jesus’ own is inherently fruitful. Any suffering or death to self that we invite Jesus into always bears fruit, in the very act of experiencing the suffering. Our charitable giving, Holy Hours, or the help we provide for family and friends are just the whipped cream on top of the fruit we’re already bearing by striving to suffer well. So many grains of wheat fall and die for those of us on this path, and they are bearing much fruit.

If this is hard to accept, consider how grace-bearing the “offered up” suffering of someone experiencing serious illness can be. They may be unable to do anything, but their gift of suffering united to Christ’s own is immensely beautiful and can call down so many graces from Heaven for their friends and for the whole Church. Would we tell our dear friend in the hospital that her suffering is meaningless? That if she can’t volunteer at the homeless shelter, she is a useless member of our Church? Let us not tell these lies to ourselves, either. Because of the Paschal Mystery, suffering, united to Christ, bears much fruit. As Brian Pizzalato so beautifully summarized, “In our own suffering, Christ allows us to share in the deepest sign of his love. He has infused suffering with divine meaning, not human meaninglessness. Human suffering is thus redeemed. Through our suffering, we participate in the sacrifice of Christ, which brings about our salvation and the salvation of others. And it is only through the cross that we are led to the resurrection, there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.” (“Christ Gives Meaning to Suffering,” Catholic News Agency)

 We may never see the tangible fruits of our grains of wheat falling to the ground each month. The economy of grace is often mysterious, but the fruit is no less real because it is hidden from view. Your cross of infertility is an invaluable treasure for your marriage, your extended family, your parish, and the Universal Church! You may not fill the pew, but the graces of your suffering fill the treasury of grace. Your very cross is fruitful.

That You are with me in my suffering,

Jesus, I trust in You.

That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next,

 Jesus, I trust in You.

(Excerpt from the Litany of Trust, by Sister Maria Faustina Pia, SV)

Katie Summers and her husband Matthew have been married for almost five years and live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When not reading mystery novels or drinking vanilla lattes, you can find Katie listening to podcasts while crocheting.