Women, Children, Infertility, and God

In my Christian circles, I hear a lot about how feminism has diminished the high calling women have as wives and mothers. I saw a sign at a local community college that said, “a woman’s place in on the jobsite.” It was advertising a forum for women on careers in technical fields. But it was an obvious take off on the saying, “a woman’s place is in the home.” I feel pretty confident in the choices we have made for our own family, so I don’t resent such statements much one way or the other. But one thing I have noted is that in Christian circles, we often tend to overcompensate in our attempts to correct whatever wrong thinking we diagnose in our culture.

In regards to our role as women, I see a trend among conservative Christian women in feminist cultures to overcompensate by placing an emphasis on children and home that goes beyond what God intended and instructs. I’ve long thought that a husband and children can become an idol in a Christian woman’s life just as quickly as any feminist goal we are reacting against (I know this because I’ve been there, done that). I don’t think we ever really understand our idols until they are threatened. That’s when our responses indicate whether they or our God are our identity and security. We MUST differentiate clearly between being a good steward of the gifts God gives us and elevating those gifts to a place of idolatry. Do you stress over what kind of meal to bring to the sick? Is your identity tied to how well you impress the person who receives your meal? Are you embarrassed to have others to your house because it doesn’t meet a perceived standard of hospitality? When your child acts out at playdate, are you humiliated? Do you beat yourself up? Or if you do not have husband, child, or house, do you feel that your life is in a holding pattern until they come along? Are you secure on who you are IN CHRIST? Does it sustain you even when you can’t, despite your best efforts, live up to the perceived standard in your Christian culture of what a godly Christian woman looks like?

I’ve posted before about singleness in our marriage centered Christian culture. I’d like to end this post with some particular thoughts on infertility. This is for those of you who value the high calling of motherhood and long to raise a brood to love Jesus. But despite your good desire, you are coming to realize your powerlessness to make this happen. How do you not just exist, but live abundantly, in a culture that values children so much? Do you know enough of the character of your God to believe deeply in His goodness despite these circumstances?

If You Were Coming In The Fall
By Emily Dickinson

If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

Dickinson must have been long acquainted with the frustration of waiting. Though likely written about a lost love, her poem well articulates the annoying problem of waiting for a child with no indication of when (if ever) your wait will be over. If you have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, you have likely experienced feelings similar to the bee Dickinson describes that flies about your head threatening its sting but never fulfilling its threat. Wouldn’t you just rather KNOW? Many couples go for years without getting pregnant with no documentable problem with either spouse. What do you do? How long do you wait? Should you try to adopt?

God often uses WAITING in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Lamentations 3:25 promises that the Lord is good to those who WAIT on Him. But what do you do in the waiting? How do you deal with emotions and fears that buzz around your head threatening you like Dickinson’s goblin bee? Here are some common questions and concerns faced at this stage of life along with Scriptural answers for each.

1) “I prayed and I’m still not pregnant. I’m afraid God’s answer will be NO.”

God invites perseverance in prayer. The parable of the unjust judge in Luke 18 was given to us for the express purpose to teach us to not give up in prayer. Though God is sovereign over this process and has before the foundation of the world established His plan for our lives, He still invites us to nag Him in prayer. And in that persevering prayer, He promises a peace over our hearts and minds that will transcend our ability to understand. What a gracious God!

Philippians 4 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 18 1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4″For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

2) “God isn’t good and He isn’t working for my good.”

Oh, but He is! God is notorious for using the worst of circumstances to work the best of things in His children’s lives. This is His trademark. Think of Job, Joseph, Hannah, Ruth, etc. He brings bad circumstances into our lives, forcing us to lose our life so that we may truly find it. Then He teaches us the meaning of true abundant living. Dying to ourselves is painful. But believe that the work He is performing in your life defies expectation. This is fundamentally Who our God is.

Romans 8 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Hebrews 11 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. …6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Matthew 10 37″Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

3) “Why did God give me a desire that He refuses to fulfill?”

The desire to be parents is certainly God-ordained. But desires out of line with sufficiency and satisfaction in Christ are devastating. God often uses unfulfilled desire in Scripture to accomplish His purposes. Consider Hannah’s classic example. Without her long unfulfilled desire, she would never have been willing to give her son up to service in God’s temple. No one can say for sure why God is allowing this unfulfilled desire in your heart. But you can trust that it is consistent with His character and that He is working in your desires to accomplish His will. Psalms 37 speaks of God’s working in and through our desires. But consider the context. The general exhortation of the chapter is to be patient and not worry when evil people seem to be winning and your desires are slow to be fulfilled.

Psalms 37 3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD ; trust in him and he will do this: … 7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;

4) “There is no way I can be satisfied with this stage of life.”

Godly contentment is possible! At issue is the tension between actively pursuing the God-ordained act of raising children and resting contentedly in this waiting time. God is working good things in your life at this stage. This stage of infertility can be a sweet time of friendship and sharing in your marriage. It could be a time to minister to others in far away locations. Maybe God has called you to a time-consuming ministry in town you won’t be able to do later when you have children. Despite His waiting to fulfill your desire to have children, He has prepared works in advance for you that will contribute to a life of abundant joy—even at this stage.

Ephesians 2 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Philippians 4 11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

I Timothy 6 6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

Psalm 90 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

5) “How much time and money should I spend seeking fertility? How far is too far?”

Short of creating embryos that will be discarded (some may disagree with me here), this decision is up to you, your spouse, and your conscience. There will be times for you to go forward with treatments and times for you to step away from the process. Only you can say at what point you stop trusting God and start trying to manipulate your way around His will. He is sovereign over this process, and He opens and closes the womb. Through His common grace, He has given doctors good knowledge on this subject. It’s always wise to be informed as long as that information doesn’t cause you to trust in man over God.

Psalm 20 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 40 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

6) “I am bitter and jealous towards others inside and outside the church.”

These emotions are common but never justified. We must deal with them simply as the sin they are. In Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin. We have the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit working in us to conform us to the image of Christ. We DON’T have to give in to these sins. Rebuke yourself when you see this attitude surface. Repent to Christ and force yourself over the hurdle to be kind and honest to those you resent.

Genesis 30 1 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” 2 Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”

Romans 13 13Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

Romans 6 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

7) “How can I have a meaningful relationship with women who have not been through this struggle?”

If women who have not struggled with this issue seem to respond to you callously, give them the benefit of the doubt. Most likely, they are simply ignorant of the emotional battles you are facing. Educate them honestly about your situation. Women who love Christ will appreciate your honesty and want to come alongside you in support during this time. It is essential that church members mutually share individuals’ burdens. This speaks to the heart of what it means to be members of the Body of Christ. Paul was honest about the hardships he suffered so that his brothers and sisters in Christ would be unified with him in both the sufferings and the comfort of Christ.

I Corinthians 12
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. … 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

8) “I think God is punishing me.”

Many Scriptures already listed address this concern. God constantly works negative things in our lives for our good and His glory. The story of Job is the classic example of God bringing horrible circumstances in the life of a believer DESPITE his uprightness of character and obedience. According to Job 1, it is because of Job’s righteous character that he is picked for this burden. Satan accuses Job of obeying God only because God is good to Job. If God brings hardship to Job, Satan believes Job will reject God. So Job’s story is about proving God’s worthiness to Satan. In hardship or blessing, trial or glory, God is worthy of praise and adoration. Like Paul’s sufferings, God is working in your life to make known to heavenly powers that He is worthy of praise.

Ephesians 3 10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Job 1 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

I hope this gives food for thought for first making sure your desire for children is not idolatrous, and then second dealing with the phenonemon God often uses to change us into His image — giving us a desire for something He says is very good and then making us WAIT for the fulfillment of that good desire.

16 Responses to Women, Children, Infertility, and God

  1. Destiney December 9, 2009 at 12:15 am #

    Thank you so much for this post. I'm about to forward it to some of my friends who are also “waiting.” I've been reading your blog for quite sometime now and have not written a comment to tell you how much I appreciate it. Thank you for your honesty, thoughtful insights and for continually reminding me of the gospel. I'm sure you are a busy woman, but I'd love to hear more on some of your points in this post! Thank you, again! May God continue to bless you as you seek Jesus and point others to him.

  2. Wendy December 9, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Thanks, Destiney! Which points were your interested in hearing more about?

  3. Prasti December 9, 2009 at 12:53 pm #

    thanks for sharing a great post, and for reminding me that my identity is not in the home or my family, but it is (and always) in Christ.

    though i have not personally experienced infertility, we have been going through some financial struggles for what seems like a long time, and these points were very encouraging and convicting (particularly #1).

    thank you for your helpful insights.

  4. birthinukraine December 9, 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    i really liked the first few paragraphs. 🙂

  5. jadeejf December 12, 2009 at 5:30 am #

    As someone who went through three years of infertility (with a great deal of help from some other women in your church!), thank you for writing this. It's easy to see the things you write as truth now that we're through that trial (though it may come again)… but I wish I'd been able to get the truth of this through to myself about, oh, three years ago. Thank you for writing it. 🙂

  6. Homemaker, MD December 12, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    I am blessed by your articulation of these truths. Though I haven't faced infertility, your discussion of identity is wonderful. when I left medicine to be a full-time mom, one of the other women physicians told me “I could never do that, because being a doctor is my identity.” Thankful for Christ, I was able to tell her that my identity was outside of myself. But oh, how quickly do the roles we fill try to creep in and decieve us into thinking they are what gives us value! My cooking, my cleaning, my writing, my mothering, my wifliness, even my christmas decorating, threaten to usurp my understanding of my value as Christ's daughter!

  7. Destiney December 14, 2009 at 4:42 am #

    Thanks for asking Wendy, number 3 and number 7 are points that come up a lot in discussing this with other women in my church (and for myself!). There are many other trials in life that make us women feel alone in the struggle… but infertility in particular seems to be one that can feel quite isolating. And number three just comes up ALL the time!

  8. Wendy December 14, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    #7 is hard, because it requires something of someone else as much as it requires it of you. The hard truth is that it's not until someone has personally suffered that they are equipped to walk with someone else who is suffering. You may find your best encouragement from women at other stages of life, particularly older women who have had enough life experience to have walked painful roads concerning children.

    Two weeks after I miscarried our first child, a friend I hadn't seen in a while asked in a bright, almost obnoxious manner, “When are you guys going to have kids?” I told her honestly that we had miscarried just 2 weeks before. I had a choice to keep it to myself, turn away, and be bitter with her. But I made myself tell her the truth in an informative but non-confrontational way. She was ignorant of the power of her words to wound someone. And for her benefit, I tried to open her eyes to it.

  9. Rachel December 26, 2009 at 2:35 am #

    I really appreciated this post, as I have been noticing the same trend you mentioned about women reacting to the feminist movement by elevating their positions as wives and homemakers to the point where they find their identity in this instead of Christ. I have to say I've struggled with it myself. Our hearts are so deceitful!
    I just started reading your book today after hearing about it on another blog. I've thought for a long time that someone needed to write a book on theology for women–thank you! (This is another disturbing trend, men AND women who think women don't need to know the deep things of God.) I find myself saying yes, yes, that's right! a lot. Thanks so much for writing this! I'll be following your blog to learn more.

  10. These Three Kings December 29, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    wow I am blown away at how the LORD spoke through you. Thank you so much for posting this. I too have delt with infertility and I have learned many of the things you have mentioned here. I will pass this on.
    Grace and peace,
    Nicole

  11. Lisa writes... January 7, 2010 at 7:45 pm #

    A weighty and wise post. I greatly appreciate your insights regarding our tendency to overcompensate. So true! And your words to those struggling with infertiltiy are both truthful and comforting. Well said.

  12. Alena February 3, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Alena

    http://ovarianpain.net

  13. ruth March 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    Hi Wendy, I was just directed to your blog today by a link from my sister on Political Angst–God knew I needed to read this post. You may have no idea how God has used this post to encourage me today! My husband and I are in the midst of dealing with infertility, and today is a difficult day in particular. I'm going to meditate on the scriptures and the principles you've written here. Thank you!

  14. Anonymous April 6, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    My husband and I have struggled with the death-experience of infertility for 13 years and counting. This post is probably the best attempt to start addressing it in a sensitive and biblical way. Well done, and thank you.

  15. JennieB June 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

    Love this article and my heart rejoices in the truths that you lay out here about infertility! I am so thankful that God taught me years ago that if I am not content without children then I will never be content with children! And what a joy it has been to receive from God's hand the gifts He had for us instead of the gift that we thought would bring us happiness! He is a Good and Faithful God that gently leads His sheep and He knows us better than we know ourselves.

  16. Wendy June 30, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Thanks, Jennie. I am interested in hearing your story one day. I know you can fill in gaps in my own understanding on this topic.