How to overcome our impulse to control everything
By Mari Lou Haynes, with Michael Haynes
Sure of our deep love for each other and confident that we were responding to God’s call to the vocation of marriage, my husband Michael and I got married in Melbourne, Australia in December 1978. Still clearly etched in our minds are the marital vows we made that day. We know that as a married couple we could be co-creators of God in bringing children into this world — that’s the natural order of things and that’s society’s expectation.
With much happiness and excitement, we did not waste any time in trying to make things happen, looking forward to my eventually conceiving a child. A year after moving to our new house, we both decided to undergo a series of medical tests in order to assure ourselves that physically, our bodies were prepared for this undertaking.
We both understood that together we have to do all that we can to collaborate with God’s plan. We were never discouraged in spite of the fact that the tests were intrusive, uncomfortable and hard on our bodies. Believing in God’s generosity and mercy, we both knew that God would be with us every step of the way in this undertaking. Both Michael’s tests and mine were very promising and we were assured by the hospital staff that everything was okay. Inspired by the results, we tried again until some years had passed and our trying to conceive was still unsuccessful.
Although our love for each other has never diminished, the many years of trying took a toll in our relationship. We felt we were being tested in our faithfulness to the vow we declared on our wedding day — “for better or worse, in sickness and in health.” We realized we had to move forward together, that we could face the uncertainty with God’s love.
Looking back, the numerous medical tests we underwent and the pressure from everyone we knew to have children caused suffering for both of us. Mine was mostly physical because of all the medical tests I underwent, but for Michael, his suffering was far more than physical. Always in the back of his mind was society’s concept of procreation as the ultimate proof of one’s manhood, and pressures from his family and friends tortured his spirit.
To watch him suffer was difficult, and my heart ached for him. My love for my husband prompted me to do everything in my power to resolve our predicament. Despite the fact that in vitro fertilization would be against the very core of my religious and moral values, I was prepared to do it so as to give Michael a child. I consulted with him about it, but he said he married me to spend his life with me with or without children.What was important to him was our love for each other.
At first, I thought I was doing this for my husband, but I later realized that I was doing it for myself, believing that I could and should be in control.
After years of soul searching and prayers, we came to realize that having children was not God’s plan for us. Perhaps not having children was actually his gift to us. We found we had more time and energy to be of service to God. Because of our involvement in the parish, our then parish priest became our friend; he could turn to us whenever he needed help.
One time he asked us to accommodate an international scholar for a month or two while he waited for alternative housing from the university. At first we were not sure about having someone around the house for that long. But in the end we became friends even with his family, whom we met when our “adopted” son graduated.
Always more, we realized that God is in control of our lives and not us. So with renewed spirit Michael and I resolved to keep moving forward, immersing ourselves in serving God by using all our talents with joy and with purpose.
For family and friends with children, we offered to occasionally babysit. It also became our tradition to open our house for gatherings, especially during Christmas and New Year’s Eve; we invited friends whose families were not with them physically during those special celebrations. We invited the parents of our godchildren and their children for Christmas lunches.
We also got involved in our community. We started participating in many parish activities and other community charitable work. I organized gatherings for my officemates. One officemate became very close to me when her engagement became problematic, and her parents appreciated the support I offered.
Four years ago, we went to the Focolare’s small town in Loppiano, Italy, to attend a school for families there. There our desire to choose God’s will, at times having been a little shaky, was solidified and strengthened. We met families from different countries of the world. Although communication was challenging, love became the universal language. We helped couples with their children, and their children found adoptive parents and grandparents in Michael and me.
After a year-and-a-half in Loppiano, we were asked if we could help in the Focolare’s small town in Thailand. Again, we gave our yes to God. It was overwhelming at first; we were worried that if something happened we would not be able to call for help, since we could not communicate in Thai. However, we realized that God sent us there only to love by forgetting ourselves. Michael helped with the construction of the houses, and sometimes he could not believe that he could accomplish the work by using sign language with the other workers.
We were asked to help with a group of young girls that met regularly, and we had the idea of a cooking workshop for them. They were so surprised and amazed that a husband would help his wife cook, as in their culture this is not a usual practice. The girls were so happy and excited to cook with Michael. He became like the father that most of them did not have at home.
Early last year, we returned to Australia, and we had barely settled in when our assistance was requested again, this time in helping the Focolare community in New Zealand. With our ready “yes” we went!
Besides the beautiful communities, the country is also amazingly beautiful — another gift of God’s love for us. We never imagined that we would discover family in all these corners of the world.
Now back in Australia, completely and happily settled in, we are enjoying the company of relatives and friends. The pressures we once felt to have children, the whispers and hurtful comments we received, although they seemed to be negative, were ways of God to help Michael and I grow strong in our spiritual journey.
We feel that our happiness and contentment — which is noticeable to others — are signs of our total surrender to God’s will during all these years, as well as our attempt to be a gift for others through our witness of God’s love.