Sudden Sad Thoughts and What to Do About Them

There was a moment this week as I sat in my car after work, about to pull out of the school parking lot and head to the comic book store to pick up the new Captain Marvel, a moment in which a fleeting thought flitted through my brain. It was unprovoked and, for me, unusual. The thought was this: “I will never have children.” Attached to this thought was an emotion: a simple, melancholy sadness. Just a statement of fact in my brain and one emotion which then led to other thoughts such as: “I wonder why God didn’t have it in his plan for me to marry and have kids?” and “I wonder why, in this brief moment, I feel sad about this when I thought I was okay with it now?” and “I don’t think I would’ve been a bad mom” and “did I do something wrong?”

Thoughts and emotions like these seem strange to me. Where do they come from? I’d had a good day at work, had actually spent the day with about 150 children in the school library, and was feeling tired and content. I’ve wrestled with the no kid thing for a couple of years now, ever since my body started going into perimenopause early and I was told by the doctor it’s a good thing I wasn’t planning on having children because it would quickly become more and more difficult to do so anyway. Other than the sheer weirdness of being a woman and being told my body can’t do what most other women do at some point in their lives, I was (mostly) okay with this.

I never really had a biological clock tick. Even when I was in my 20s and thought I’d one day be a wife and mother, adoption was my preferred route. I mean, my career right out of college was working with a Family Preservation organization, with foster children and kids at risk of removal from their parents for neglect or abuse. I had already met too many children living in group homes, or shuffled from one temporary foster home to the next, so the desire to adopt grew quickly and powerfully.

As I got into my 30s, I considered trying to adopt as a single woman since a husband didn’t seem to be on the table, but as a typical Californian I could not afford a house or apartment on my own, lived with a roommate, and worked way too many hours to raise a child alone. I deeply respect single women who foster or adopt, but it was just not an option for me with my limited funds and time.

Most of the time, even in those younger years, this didn’t bother me. I was a teacher, a godmother, an auntie, and had tons of kids, from babies through high schoolers, to help raise. I was living the life God led me to live, and was busy and fulfilled. I struggled more with the lack of a date, boyfriend, or husband than I did a child.

Now, in my (very early) 40s, I spend a lot of time being thankful that I don’t have children, that God has allowed me the freedom of singleness and childlessness to pursue a dream job (librarian), to have traveled so much, to be involved in counseling ministries, and to love so widely. Also, I’m exhausted. I don’t know how parents my age do it.

Yet there goes my brain having THOUGHTS, and my heart feeling EMOTIONS, both of which are unexpected and confusing. In the GriefShare sessions I help facilitate at my church, we talk a lot about how grief can come seemingly out of nowhere, how you might think you have it all under control and then, WHAM, it hits you all over again. I’m realizing my grief over the loss of a lifelong dream, expectation, and thing most people do indeed get in their lifetime (but some of us don’t), can still hit me in the midst of contentment and joy.

There are usually triggers for such thoughts and emotions: for me perhaps it was sitting in the car and seeing all of the moms and dads picking up their kids from after school activities. It may have been the fact that no fewer than 5 babies were born to dear friends of mine over Christmas break, which brought me great joy (even now, as I type this, I’m catching myself smiling at the thought of those 5 little scrunchy baby faces and their awesome parents). Another mother I know just suffered a tragic miscarriage, so that is on my heart as well. Perhaps it was purely hormonal (dude, you guys, menopause sucks, and hormones are for real!!!). Maybe the gloomy weather drew out the melancholic in me.

Most likely, there was more than one trigger, as we humans are complex, and there are usually multiple causes for everything we experience. Honestly, getting to the bottom of the trigger doesn’t really concern me. I’m sure this exact same thought and attached emotion will hit me again as it has before. Instead, I’d rather focus on what to do when such thoughts and emotions wage a sneak attack on us.

My mom happened to call about 30 seconds after the follow-up questions had started to spiral in my brain. It would have been easy to ignore the moment, and just pretend like I hadn’t just been sad about not having kids. I would have forgotten about it until the next time it hit. Instead, I decided to tell my mom about it. I just mentioned that I’d had this thought, and it was weird, and I felt a little bit sad, and how odd that was for me. Just acknowledging that it was real, and indeed sad, and okay to feel that way was a relief. Taking 5 minutes to remember that I am in the process of losing a dream and that it’s okay to be a little sad about that every once in awhile was beautiful and freeing. Being able to speak this to my mother and have her listen without judgement, have her tell me it’s okay to feel this way, that it’s normal, that I can feel sad sometimes even though I’m very happy with my life, that was what I needed.

Philippians 4:4-9 says “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

I think part of being able to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS is being able to be sad and yet still rejoice. We live in a broken world, and the Lord does not command us to pretend otherwise. We are not meant to bury our heads in the sand and act like everything is always perfect and happy. Christ himself did no such thing in his time here on earth, instead he faced hard times head on. But rather than allowing these unwelcome sad thoughts and emotions to take over, to lead us into the downward spiral of depression (toward which I am already prone), we can have these thoughts and still be okay.

Because I have been praying about the no husband and kid thing for a couple decades now, I am no longer anxious or depressed about it. I feel a peace about my single status that certainly surpasses my understanding. Over the past few years, I’ve also practiced thinking on and practicing the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things. And, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, it gets easier the more I practice.

So now, I can have a thought and emotion of grief and loss and sadness, like “I will never be able to have a child of my own (whether by birth or adoption), like all these other moms have.” And I can dwell in that sadness for a moment, acknowledge it is real and true, that it is a good and commendable desire, and then I can move on. The downward spiral into deeper sadness or depression is not required, nor is a false pretense that I never feel this way and am always fine with my single, non-mother status. I can feel sad. And I can still rejoice. And I can move on with my day and my life in a way that glorifies God, helps others, and brings me true joy and peace.

Whatever random (or probably not quite so random) thoughts and emotions you have that hit you from time to time, know that you don’t have to wallow in them nor ignore them. You can honor them and yet still find joy and peace in this life. The more you practice acknowledging these thoughts, praying about them with thanksgiving, and turning your minds to the praiseworthy things, the more you will experience the reality that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And having your little nephew make you an imaginary cup of tea won’t hurt either.

6 thoughts on “Sudden Sad Thoughts and What to Do About Them”

  1. I feel ya. As I was packing away my Christmas ornaments this year, many of them brought my assumptions of life into mind “when I have toddlers, I’m not going to put all these glass ornaments up”

    “Oh, wait. I don’t think I’ll ever have toddlers”

    “When I have teenagers, I’m going to remind them that…”

    “Oh, wait. I don’t think I’ll have teenagers”

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. They so echo mine. One of the things that I’ve learned
    —and was just talking to some other single women at church yesterday—was that I’ve learned to feel the feelings without getting too mired.

    I’ve never had a biological clock… but I’ve had a lot of assumptions about how my life would go. And there is some grief in letting those go.

    1. I like that, I like learning to “feel the feelings without getting too mired.” And it is amazing how much our assumptions, or even cultural assumptions that pour into our ideas of life and adulthood, trigger these thoughts and emotions.

  2. Beautifully written, and true. Finding balance between acknowledgement of emotions and moving forward to hope and joy, in order to maintain emotional health between extremes, is key. For believers, having Jesus’ companionship and the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit while maintaining that balance is …beyond words…. around the sound psychology.

    Though not catholic, I recently read a post shared by a catholic friend, about Consecrated Virgins. I then stumbled onto the blog Sponsa Christi by a young consecrated virgin (educated in law). What stood out to me was the elevation and respect for the vocation, rather than any ‘negative’ status associations, the sacrifices of companionship and motherhood acknowledged and the spousal relationship with Christ cherished. Theirs is a celibacy chosen, not unexpectedly experienced. It was enlightening to see their perspective, which along with acceptance, may well be the place individual believers may come to, or start from, Catholic or not.

    We, as believers, are Christ’s bride, the church. Isaiah 54:5 and 62:5 speak to God’s people, of which we belong through adoption, as having our Maker as our husband, and as being rejoiced over as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. It has been a joy of late to connect more with Jesus as a faithful and caring spouse in addition to Saviour, friend, brother, Prince, Shepherd, King…

    There is something to cherish in knowing Jesus identifies with us also in being single, celibate and with those who have not born biological children. He takes our hand as a lifelong companion, no divided interests, heading with us, in the plans he has for us along the way, to the place he is preparing for us in his Father’s house with many rooms (John 14:2). I’m in. I’m coming after you, my hand in yours, my Jesus. 😀

    1. What a beautiful response! I’ve often thought the Catholic Church has a much better perspective of celibacy and lifelong singleness (though it has its own struggles) than the Protestant church. I mean, we Protestants pretty much just passionately teach “no sex until marriage” as our entire doctrine of celibacy; the marriage is the assumed solution, there isn’t really another option.

  3. Yes, this happens to me! I have never been one to long for children, but at random times, deep sadness wells up at the stark thought that I probably won’t ever have a baby. In a sense, bearing children is what I, as a woman, was made for–and at 41 years of age I suppose I am slowly mourning the loss. I have to remind myself that God is more powerful than any dumb decisions I’ve made and that He must, lovingly, have this other path for me. And lately, yes, I am mostly content on that path, especially knowing that God is intimately with me, and has not and will not abandon me (or any of us) in the ups and downs.

    1. Thank you for opening up about your experience of this! I think it’s pretty common, but we just don’t speak of it much. Praise God his plans for us are wondrous, even when it might not feel that way in the moment!

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