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28 September 2012

Depending on God in the face of childlessness

Jo Simpkins UCCF Staff Worker
Hannah's hope image

Infertility is often a silent burden borne by couples in private. The deeply personal nature of the problem can mean it takes a lot of courage to share even with close friends and family. Yet it is estimated that 1 in 6 couples struggle to conceive, which means that in a church the size of Above Bar Church this is no small problem. Whether you know it or not, it is likely that you know people who are struggling, or have once struggled, with the pain of childlessness.  Some of them will wish for this to remain private, but others will be longing for help, support and advice from the church. Whatever the desire of individual couples, an issue so prevalent and painful needs our attention.   

Mine and Dan’s own story is one of five years of infertility, during which we have struggled in many ways. However, we can testify to God’s comfort, that he does lift up the broken-hearted from a place of despair to depend on him and his plans. Writing on such a personal and sensitive issue feels risky, especially as our way of dealing with it might be different to others. But it’s our prayer that highlighting it will be helpful for those men and women struggling and for everyone else in the church as we consider how to be a community that ministers to one another.    

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” 1 Samuel 1:10

In 1 Samuel we are given a glimpse into one woman’s long struggle with infertility. God isn’t silent on the issue, with other well known Bible couples experiencing the same.  At times for Hannah, her grief was almost too much to bear, causing weeping and bitterness in her soul. Countless since have experienced this trial, crying out to the Lord in desperation, just as Hannah did. 

The pain of infertility can surface with different intensities through various seasons of the journey, and this will look different in each unique experience. There may be times when grief and desperation are crushing as unfulfilled hopes and desires for a child become overwhelming. Couples can experience loneliness as it seems everyone else is having babies. I was shocked at how intensely the sinful emotions of jealousy, bitterness and anger could surface, affecting my walk with the Lord and relationships with those around me. Added to the emotional pressures, there may be physical complaints causing the problems, as well as invasive medical tests and procedures to undergo. People struggling with childlessness desperately need friendship, love and support.

Burden Bearers

Helping people through infertility can be tricky, especially when we don’t always know who they are (and we shouldn’t go round asking!). There is no doubt that it’s a sensitive issue which none of us will get right all the time. However, there are simple things that we can all do to help. Comments such as, “isn’t it about time you started a family?”, “when you have kids you’ll understand”, “it will be your turn next” etc, can be crushing. We can all be aware that we don’t always know people’s circumstances.

There may be times when it’s too much for them to attend a dedication, cuddle a new-born or look at a scan picture. People shouldn’t take these reactions personally against them or their children. Sometimes they are simply too much of a reminder of painful longings.

All of this means it might be hard at times to help bear the burden, but please don’t let that be a reason to avoid friendship. Relationships generally are messy in our broken world, requiring patience, grace and forgiveness. Working out what that looks like is all part of being an authentic community of God’s people.

Above all, please pray for couples longing to have children, even if you don’t know who they are. Pray for them in their pain, for protection on their marriages, and that God will help everyone in the church to be able to genuinely share one another’s joys and sorrows. 

Life to the full

The Bible certainly speaks of children as a great blessing. However, if that blessing is elevated so high that it becomes an ultimate goal for Christians, it can leave those unable to have children feeling cursed - but God does not promise children to everyone. Rather, he promises life to the full in Christ to all who trust him (John 10:10). Trials can make us question God’s love for us, believing we are being punished; but that is not the God we worship. No one loves us more than God who has shown the extent of his love by giving his own son to enable us to be his friends. We can be sure we’re not being punished because Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was complete enough for us to claim “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  Even when we don’t understand the things that we face, we can trust that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Children of God (1 John 3:1)

When we decided the time was right to start a family, I quickly took on for myself the identity of ‘mother’. Everything in life became shaped by the assumption that I soon would be. As it became clear that this was not happening, I struggled to cope with the disappointment and was confused about who God wanted me to be. It’s so dangerous to look to anything other than Jesus for our identity because he is the only one we can fully depend on. Nothing else is guaranteed. Whilst it is indeed an immense privilege to be a parent and a role that must be honoured, it is not our highest calling. We are called to be in a relationship with our Lord and Maker, finding our identity as sons and daughters of God. Only then can we know wholeness and satisfaction, experiencing joy, peace and contentment, even through our sorrows. We continue to pray for the gift of a child, but thank our Lord that we are his children, and therefore complete in that identity.    

Recommended reading

There is so much more to say on this issue. The book ‘Hannah’s Hope: Finding God’s Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage and Adoption Loss’ by Jennifer Saake is excellent. It’s tender, thorough and Biblically practical, written also for ‘burden bearers’, so I recommend it to everyone!

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