(RNS) — When you are childless, not by choice, the realization of this reality takes years.

But confronting the later, consequential fact that you will also not have grandchildren takes only an instant.

When you assume you will someday have children, you carry that assumption for a long, long time. You give yourself time. You try this. You try that. You hope and you pray. Then at some point you accept that it is too late.

Perhaps you never marry, despite your wishes to do so, or you marry so late into the day that the light that gives life has dimmed. Or perhaps you marry early, only to find yourself, month after month, year after year, unable to conceive or carry or give birth.

Perhaps somewhere in those years, you pursue certain medical treatments that promise to put things right. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps they do, but it is still not enough. Perhaps you say no to more interventions, some technologies and certain arrangements because they cost so much. Or they trouble you. Perhaps they don’t trouble you at all and you throw all the money in the world at the problem, but even money can’t buy you luck.

Perhaps you assume you will adopt someday, but for one reason or another, or many, those doors don’t open. Maybe you don’t even dare to knock.

You watch friend after friend bring home baby after baby, and you assume yours will come home someday, too. But years pass and someday never comes. The window ever so slowly inches toward the sill, then finally closes.

The years you spend wondering if you will have a child are ones spent noticing what a great parent your spouse would be. You wonder if your would-be child would love fishing and sports like he does, or reading like you do. Or would the child venture into new things unexplored by either of you. The child would, of course, love dogs. Would definitely love dogs. Would your would-be child be smart and make a lot of money like this relative? Or might the child struggle with mental illness and die too young like that relative? There are, you realize, so many possibilities both bright and dark. You know you would love the child no matter what.

You know what kind of grandparents your parents would have been to your child because they have grandchildren from children that are not yours. You love to see your parents loving that role for those children. But you will never see them do that for yours. What might that have been like?

So many wonderings.

Even so, you live. You love. You work. You serve. Your life is full. Your longing for a child may diminish over time, or it may never leave. But you slowly accept the reality that longing alone can never change. You are at peace.

And then one day you realize that by not having children, you will never have grandchildren.

That realization dawns in an instant.

Perhaps it is the time your childhood friend, still so young, posts a photo of her first grandchild on social media. Perhaps it is when the first grandchild is born to your sibling.  Perhaps it is the first time you are invited to a baby shower for the yet-to-be-born grandchild of your best friend. Or perhaps the fact that you will never have grandchildren is one you face because you have children who won’t have children. As birth rates fall, the grandchildless grow in number.

New versions of the old wonderings begin all over again.

You realize you will never know what kind of grandparent you would have been, what kind of birthday parties you would have hosted, special outings you would have planned, spoiling you would have done and dreams you’d have helped fund. But you think you would have been a good one.

Facing this blank spot in your life’s story, you might feel sad or empty or even ashamed. But hopefully not.

You realize that history and the present are filled with people who had or have no children and therefore never had or will have grandchildren. Yet, these people bore good fruit in the world and have nurtured us all.

So you look to these: Julia Child. Cicely Saunders. Marguerite Henry. Flannery O’Connor. William Blake. Anne and Emily Bronte. Mary Cassatt. Emily Dickinson. Helen Keller. Hannah More and all of her sisters. Florence Nightingale. Jonathan Swift. Leonardo da Vinci. Queen Elizabeth I. Julian of Norwich. St. Paul. Perhaps, too, many of your own friends.

And Jesus.

You look to Jesus, the Son of Man, who instead of having children made us God’s children.

You look to Jesus, and you determine to be more like him.

You seek, by God’s grace, to have children of the faith who will then someday have their own children of the faith, for generation upon generation.

And that will be so grand.

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