You can listen to Pastor Michael Schuermann and Katie Schuermann talk about barrenness in marriage on Issues, Etc. here.
Archive for August, 2011
I’ve been hearing that for nine years, now, and each year it gets a little harder to hear. Part of me is thankful for the optimism of strangers, because deep down inside I really do hope they are right. But what if they aren’t? I often think of my barren friends who are past the childbearing age. What was it like when new acquaintances stopped making plenty-of-time-platitudes to them, when strangers could tell that their time had indeed passed? What kept them from despairing when all physical, worldly hope of ever carrying a child in their womb had gone?
I recently received the following email from a woman who is past the age of childbearing, and her confession of faith brought me great joy. How comforting to know that the same promises of God which console me in my barrenness today will continue to sustain and comfort me should I remain childless past the time of my own fecundity.
My heart goes out to you, since I am also barren. Even though I am 57 years old, it still is difficult to realize that God did not intend to give me the blessings of children of my own. From early childhood on, I only wanted to be a mother. That never happened. When it didn’t seem to be happening for us naturally, we explored first adoption, and then medical help, but neither were options for us. We waited too long and were considered too old to be considered adoptive parents by church and state social agencies, even though we were in our mid 30′s. Private adoption at that time meant that the birth parents would have all the say in how we raised our children, and we weren’t comfortable with that. We then went as far as we felt it would be God-pleasing in the medical procedures of that day and time. We finally had to accept that God’s will for us was His will for us! Knowing that He loved us even more than we loved each other, we could look forward to whatever He planned for our future.
Now, two decades later, I still mourn the fact that the infants I hold and the children I love will never be mine. God is good. My family is huge. There are new babies joining our family every few months. The most recent was born in June, and now we hear that another niece will be blessed with her second child in January. God has given me many nieces and nephews to love and cherish. However, it will never be the same as raising one of His precious lambs.
So…we hold to God’s love for us and our love for each other. He has blessed us in so many ways! His wisdom is not mine, and that is good. He does know what is best for me, for my husband, for my family, and for you. Whatever God has in store for you will be a blessing to both you and to others. I pray He gives you a child, but only if that is His perfect will.
The nurse was finishing up the preparations for mom, dad, and the new baby to leave the hospital and I was standing off to the side, waiting to play my part. The unique circumstances of their situation had given me the opportunity to be able to drive the happy family home from the hospital. The entire week prior had been filled with unexpected peace and contentment as I was caring for their other children, giving lots of hugs and rocking the littler one to sleep. It had been such a long time since I had had the pleasure of giving that kind of love. The Lord was keeping me afloat, allowing my heart to keep the unhelpful emotions at bay.
The hospital staff gave us the OK to leave. Mom and dad shuffled on ahead, careful not to strain their healing bodies, and I lifted the car seat, barely noticing the extra weight from the tiny body tucked safely inside. I left the room with a cheerful smile, grateful for the chance to be useful. After a few strides down the long corridor I had an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I had been here before. I had been in this place, carrying this car seat, heading for home with a new life. I had been here before a hundred times in my mind, in my daydreams—only in my dream the baby in the seat had been mine.
A wave of dizziness overwhelmed me as the intensity of the emotions that had been held back for so long seemed to slam against the wall that was holding them back. My surroundings blurred and I had trouble seeing the hallway ahead of me. Not yet, Lord, I prayed. I can’t lose it now. Not yet. Just let me finish what needs to be done. I frantically searched for something else to focus on, something I could use to mentally plug up the leak that had sprung in the dam.
How do you handle the tears? Do you welcome them when it’s a convenient time and let them come unstifled, knowing that you will somehow feel better—cleansed in a way—when the spell is over? Or do the tears make everything worse for you, causing you to fall into a depression that’s hard to get out of? So often we’re just not sure what to do with the tears.
Perhaps we should all get ourselves a lachrymatory.
I know—I had never heard of it either until recently. It’s a special bottle used to collect tears. In ancient times it is believed that they were used to collect the tears of mourners. In Psalm 56:8 King David even refers to God as having His own lachrymatory: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
David paints such a vivid picture for us of a loving God who is attentive to the most minute detail of our lives, who is ready and waiting with a bottle to catch every tear that falls from our eyes. The Lutheran Study Bible has a wonderful explanation of this verse.
God cares for His people and pays attention to their pain, fear, and grief. Though David tossed and turned in the night, stressed with anxiety, God has taken careful note of every single moment…God does not forget a single tear shed in grief…Such is the comforting depth of God’s love for His children. (p. 901)
The tears we shed in moments when we’re overcome serve more than just a biological purpose. They have a spiritual purpose as well. Just as the consumption of salt creates thirst in the body, these salty tears of sorrow should create in us a thirst for the Living Water, the Messiah, who told the Samaritan woman that whoever drank from this Water would never thirst again. He proclaimed to her and to you and to me: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” (John 4:14).
The barren woman who thirsts for this Living Water can find it in God’s Holy Word, especially the Psalms. It is here that the Holy Spirit calms her troubled heart by revealing to her the mercies shown to the Lord’s servant, David, a man who has likewise tasted the salt of his own tears. The Living Water from his Savior replenished his soul and poured over into thousands of words that quench our thirst still today, more than two millennia later. May we imprint these words into our hearts so that they would well up within us as we look to that eternal life that has been promised where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” (Rev. 21:4).
Order your print copy here.
He Remembers the Barren by Katie Schuermann is a tender conversation with women in the church who wrestle with the issue of barrenness in marriage. Addressing questions frequently asked by those struggling with infertility, the author walks alongside the reader, relaying personal stories to both encourage and support those who are suffering. Issues such as control of our bodies, family planning, and the source of conception are examined through a theological lens, reminding the reader of her clear vocation in Christ and pointing her to the ultimate source of fruitfulness, vitality, and comfort, our Triune God.
With Psalm readings, beloved hymn texts, and collects penned by Dcs. Melissa A. Degroot, each chapter of He Remembers the Barren resonates on a devotional level that is pitch perfect for women struggling with the grief and shame which often accompany barrenness. This book also serves as a valuable resource for pastors, family members, and friends seeking to better understand the barren experience of a loved one.
John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Concordia Theological Seminary and respected commentator on Christian ethics, has this to say about the book: “This is a book that is about Christ who alone is the source of our joy and hope, our life and peace. Katie does not hold out a Jesus who will fix the problem of barrenness but a Jesus whose favor for sinners reaches to the very depths of our being. As Katie so aptly puts it, fulfillment is found not in the womb but in Christ. Writing with tenderness and a realism shaped by the cross, Katie makes a lively use of the Gospel to draw her sisters away from the temptations to self-pity and despair to the sure and certain promises of the Son of God recorded in the Scriptures and proclaimed in sermon and sacrament. Only in Christ is there true contentment.”
I recently had the joy of spending a few days this summer in the home of my dear friend in South Dakota. From dawn ‘til dusk, my friend’s five, little blessings ran around in baseball caps and tutus (sometimes at the same time) alternately playing doctor, reading books, putting together puzzles, working in the garden, and “helping” Mommy. My friend’s home is delightful chaos, and I found myself basting in the youthful commotion until my barren-weariness was good and tenderized from all of the love and attention.
I stayed long enough to need a load of laundry done, and my friend generously offered me the use of her washer and dryer. I popped down to her basement with my laundry bag in hand, and I almost tripped over my own dropped jaw at the sight of her laundry room floor.
There, sitting in an organized row, were six, full laundry baskets. Six! Upon closer inspection, I noticed that some of the laundry baskets even had extra baskets stacked underneath them. I counted them all. Sixteen. My friend owns sixteen laundry baskets!
All of those blessings running around upstairs obviously came with some dirty, back-breaking responsibility. Their life of playing and growing and learning resulted in my friend needing more laundry baskets than I have fingers on my hands. The term “mountain of laundry” took on a whole new meaning for me. I looked down at my wimpy lavender and lime green polka-dotted laundry bag and felt kind of embarrassed at its meager size.
I went upstairs and asked my friend, “Do you ever use all of those laundry baskets at the same time?”
She blushed. “Yes. Don’t tease me!”
“Um, that doesn’t warrant teasing. That warrants a maid!”
Here is the difference: I yearn for more laundry, and my friend yearns for less. I crave a little more chaos, and she craves a little more privacy. We can see the blessings and the burdens in each others lives. What a gift it is to know and trust that God in His wisdom and love gives both of us good gifts, and what a privilege it is to pray for each other and support one another in the body of Christ.
I hope my friend can come visit me in Dallas. I think she will be refreshed by the quiet and solitude of my home, just as I was refreshed by the perpetual, snuggly motion in her own. Though I may leave my laundry room door closed when she comes…
In 1998, Jerome and I were married. The Lord has blessed us greatly during the past 13 years. We have both found suitable employment, jobs that bring us joy. Our parents have lived within a day’s driving distance. We’ve been able to see our families throughout the year, and there is much joy and laughter. My husband and I have enjoyed good health; we are grateful for the Lord’s mercy in our lives.
One of the greatest blessings has been the birth of our daughter Joanna. She is God’s gift to us, and we thank God every day for her. Before Joanna was born, we struggled to become pregnant. There were days of doctors’ appointments, times of waiting for test results, and numerous prayers. I am so thankful that the Lord did not intend for me to go through this time of uncertainty alone. There were days when I needed a shoulder upon which to cry, and Jerome was there. There were unanswered questions, and Jerome wondered the same thing. I was angry, and Jerome provided a listening ear. We could lean on each other, and we did. Hearts were opened up and poured out to each other. My burdens became his burdens, and his became mine. We didn’t know the Lord’s plan for our lives, and so we could do nothing but trust in His promises to provide only good things for us. And He already had. He had given us Himself in Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In time, He also gave our daughter Joanna to us.
It was not through any of our good merits that the Lord provided, though. This was His complete mercy to us. There is nothing in me that could have pushed the Lord to grant our wishes. I was conceived in sin and born sinful. The only good that lies in me (or my husband) has come from Jesus Christ. He has taken all of my sins and washed me clean. I now stand pure before God.
I am, however, a sinful person. I can hear you saying, “Didn’t she just say that she is now pure?” And you’re right. I am pure, and I am still sinful. I don’t know if Jerome and I will ever be parents to a second child. I don’t know if Joanna will ever get to be a big sister. You see, God doesn’t OWE me anything. I’m still a sinner, in need of God’s grace and mercy. I could pray all day, every day, and God still wouldn’t have to provide another child to my family. I pray that God would bless us with another child, but I have no guarantee of that.
And so, I thank God for what He has already given to me. I have His name marked on my forehead and my heart. I have the doors of heaven open to me upon my death. I have been given a loving husband. God has blessed my marriage to Jerome, and I am so thankful. The Lord has granted me a companion for life, and I am blessed.
Not everyone has received the gift of a spouse. That does not mean God thinks any less of them, just as He doesn’t think any less of women who are barren. It does not provide comfort to say, “Oh, the right person is out there for you yet.” Are you really sure about that? Do you know God’s mind? It is better to rejoice with our single friends in the blessings God has already bestowed upon them.
God provides abundant blessings to all of His children, whether single or married. God gives good gifts, and ONLY good gifts.
Maybe you can relate. When I am grieving over my childlessness, I don’t want someone to explain away my grief. I also don’t want someone to offer practical solutions to my pain. I usually just want someone to listen.
When discussing this fact with my husband this afternoon, he drew my attention to the following excerpt on the importance of listening for the consolation of the brethren from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together:
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians…so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.
…There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God…But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” *
* (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Life Together. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1954. pgs, 97-9.)
Death is a grievous disruption of the eternal life God has always intended for His creation. So inarguably, the death of children most heinously depicts a world gone wrong. The robbery from raising and nurturing our little ones due to their untimely deaths (via miscarriage, stillbirth or otherwise) leaves parents seemingly mocked by Satan with this barrenness.
Just ask my sister-in-law, Sara.
Young and hopeful, Sara and her husband, David, began their marriage on May 25, 2002 like most Christian families; enjoying the gift of each other and looking forward to the days ahead where God might grant them children. And grant them He did.
In January 2005, Sara discovered she was pregnant. Excitement naturally abounded in their family, but sadly, a few short weeks in, she suffered a miscarriage. They named this baby Emma.
The following year, Sara became pregnant again. However, the miscarriage occurred even earlier than the first. They named that baby Lily.
Less than a year later, Sara conceived in December 2006. She’d made it past the first trimester much to her relief. However, the nightmarish pattern once more descended, and the baby miscarried shortly thereafter. They named this child Joshua.
Sadness, confusion and helplessness understandably overshadowed Sara and David.
After three miscarriages in less than three years, Sara sought the advice of other doctors. Then one physician, Dr. Storey, discovered Sara was borderline Protein C deficient. This means blood clots a little too much, which causes insufficient circulation to what her system considers “unnecessary” parts of her body—including her uterus. Also, Dr. Storey told her she likely has Luteal Phase Defect; which means her body does not produce enough progesterone during the first trimester to force the body to stay pregnant.
When Sara conceived again for the fourth time in 2008, they were cautiously hopeful as her doctor prepared a specific treatment plan. Sara followed strict orders of minimal-to-no exercise, a baby aspirin to thin out her blood, and progesterone during the first trimester. She ever-so-anxiously nurtured their fourth child en-utero, and Hannah Lynn was born happy and healthy nine months later on December 13, 2008.
Finally, a child was born! Relieved and joyful, Sara and David were ever thankful to finally hold one of their children in their arms. So, when Sara conceived for the fifth time a mere 13 months later, back to Dr. Storey she went to care for this baby, too.
The first and second trimesters went very well. Adhering to the doctor’s orders, their fifth child–a boy they named Carter–was growing steadily and healthily. However, things took a turn for the unimaginable in her 35th week.
A baby shower on August 27, 2009 (Five weeks before the due date) lent itself to mixed emotions. Sara had had a doctor’s appointment three days earlier that affirmed Carter was fine, and yet, she hadn’t felt him move much at all that day. Sara went through the motions of the celebration, but was very preoccupied. The following morning, she called the doctor to schedule another visit. She didn’t even tell David, thinking her fears were getting the best of her. Unfortunately, it was one of their darkest days that would follow several more. The visit confirmed that tragically, Carter Alan’s heart was no longer beating. Later that same day, they induced labor and beheld his perfect, still little body in the early morning hours of August 29, 2009. Doctors discovered that the umbilical cord had become wrapped and tangled around his legs, which had cut off all blood and oxygen supply.
Even in the midst of such heartache and grief, Sara conceived a few months later, and they were blessed with a sixth child, Abigail Faith, born happy and healthy in September 2010.
Suffice it to say, the trauma of Carter’s death is, among all of their losses, a distinct grief still observed. Going through a pregnancy nearly full-term (where, in many cases, babies survive with medical care after week 28), enduring the labor pains and recovery, and dreading the reality that they would only be able to hold the shell—a perfect shell—of the son they once had, has been the source of much sorrow to this day.
Luther suffered the loss of a child–a daughter, Magdalena, when she was only twelve years old. What is so striking in his writings proceeding her death is his immediate, unshakeable confidence (“I rejoice that she is living with her Father in sweet sleep until that Day.1”), and pangs of melancholy that he remained here on earth. (“ ...the world’s contempt and hatred for the Word of Grace makes me disgusted with life and seeing anything in this horrible Sodom.2”).
Incidentally, Sara and David seem to have responded in kind. Sara shared with me two passages of Scripture that have comforted them since Carter’s death.
“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18: 15-17
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5: 3-5
What bittersweet joy the unshakeable confidence God has given Sara and David in the midst of such tragedies. It is truly a gift borne solely out of God’s Word–namely the Word-made-flesh, Jesus; who has called all believers out of darkness and into his marvelous light. It is Jesus who gives us faith. It is Jesus who gives us hope. And.it is Jesus who beckons the little children –yes, Emma, Lily, Joshua and Carter–unto him into eternity. Just as God told Jeremiah He knew him before he was formed in the womb, (Jer. 1:5) so too, God knows all of His children!
God remembers the Janes family and continueally abides with them as He does all His people, through His means of grace. Trudging this weary, earthly trail together, God gives us the strength to carry on to our blessed ends and to bear each other’s burdens (Luke 5:6). If readers would like to contact Sara, she has offered her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are barren simply because God, in His wisdom, has not given them a spouse. Thank you, Rev. Michael Mohr, for sharing this perspective on the barrenness of a single man:
Dissolve – v.i. 1.) to be mixed thoroughly into solution; 2.) to disband or cease to exist. Used in heraldry and genealogy to denote the end of a surname or house because of the lack of male heirs.
For as long as history has been written, it has been the duty of a son to continue the family name by producing the next generation, preferably through a son who can carry that name on to another, coming generation. I learned the importance of family at a young age, attending family reunions and having to introduce myself – ”I am Michael, son of Gale, son of Theodore, son of George.” Growing up, it was just annoying that all of my cousins on Dad’s side of the family were girls. But as I grew older, I realized that if my family name was to survive this generation, that responsibility fell primarily to me.
I am growing even older now, and I realize that my opportunities to carry out that duty are growing fewer and fewer. God has not yet brought into my life a wife. I slowly come to the reality that even if God should grant me a wife, we are reaching past the age when it would be safe for her to bear children. I cannot but feel that I have failed my duty as a son. I have failed my father, my uncles, my grandfather, my great-grandfather. I have failed them all to keep the family name alive.
As a pastor, I have conducted many baptisms. When I come to the portion of the service where the child is to be named, I always use the given names of the child, never the surname. Some patriarchs would get rather upset not to hear their family name called upon at the baptismal font. That is when I remind them that we are all children of God at the font. I continue to use those given names every time we come before God – confirmations, weddings, funerals, and in prayers. Always the given name – the Christian name – never the surname. There is no family but the family of God.
And so it strikes me that God is teaching me in my barrenness (the barrenness of being single) what I have been trying to teach my parishioners: that we are dissolved, fully absorbed into the family of God in our baptism. It is not the generations that follow, to whom we give our earthly names, that secure our immortality. It is solely because of Him from whom we have been given our name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that our name will not dissolve, but endure for all eternity.
Rev. Michael Mohr
Question Submitted: My husband thinks I should not be so upset about our infertility. He would not mind if we never had a child, so he thinks my grief is not normal. I can’t help but be upset. I am not sure what to do.
You are grieving a death of sorts – the death of a lifelong dream, the death of your family line, and the death of children you have never had. That kind of loss does not come easily to anyone. It is no wonder you feel upset.
That being said, please be careful not to hold it against your husband that he does not share your grief. He is not the same person as you, and it is okay for him to have his own, honest response to all of this, even when that response is different from your own. Your husband’s absence of grief does not automatically mean he is cold-hearted; it just means that he, for whatever reason, is not grieved at this time.
Keep telling your husband how you feel. Don’t force it on him, but don’t hide it from him. Be honest. Help him to see that though you two may not react the same way to your infertility, your feelings of grief are just as valid and real as his absence of them. In the end, the important thing is not that you both feel the same way about your infertility but that you both love and support each other regardless of your respective feelings. You both are on the same side, after all, and you get to share in each others’ joys and sorrows. And, when you both inevitably fail in that sharing, you can speak the words of forgiveness to each other because Christ has completely forgiven you.
I know you may feel alone in all of this. Please, go talk with your pastor. He is Christ’s man there for you, and he can remind you of the promises God has made to you in His Word to work everything in this life for your eternal good. You need to be hearing those promises, especially in your grief.
Also, remember that your Lord Jesus has promised to always hear your prayers (Psalm 6:9; Proverbs 15:29; 1 Peter 3:12). You can trust Him to support you in your grief and sorrow, even at those times when your husband may not.