Question Submitted: How can I best love and support my sister who is barren currently because she is not/has never been married? She is going through a very difficult time right now and I know that she feels a lot of anger, frustration, depression, and a multitude of other difficult emotions. She has told me several times how aware she is that she is the only one in my family who is not married and doesn’t have children. I have tried to be sensitive of that, but I was wondering if there was anything else I can do to love and support her (besides lifting her up in prayer and listening to her).
I thought your sister might appreciate your question being answered by a fellow, single sister in Christ rather than by an old, married lady such as me, so I asked Adriane A. Dorr, managing editor of The Lutheran Witness and one of my favorite people in the whole world, to take the helm on this one. Ms. Dorr just wrote a book called Hello. My Name Is Single. It’ll be out spring of 2014. It includes interviews from single people—young adults to widows—and touches on all manner of topics from “Why You Should Never Date Guys with ‘J’ Names and Other Little Known Facts” to “Love > Sex” to “Awkward First Dates and Other Things Singles Could Definitely, Totally Do Without,” all with the purpose of helping single people realize that the Lord really does love them, that being single is not the end of the world, that you can pray fervently for a pious spouse even before you think you’re ready to get married, what it means to be a Christian man or woman, and that dating, marriage, and life in general require God’s grace and forgiveness and a little dash of humor on the side.
Two years ago, I sat in a stiff-backed hospital chair, watching my sister and her husband coo over their newborn daughter, who was still pink and a little wrinkly and definitely very sleepy. In a moment, I was jealous. I wanted a husband who loved me and a child to rock in my arms too, and while I knew of wives who struggled with barrenness, I consoled myself with the fact that I was suffering more, since they, at least, had husbands to love them while I had no one.
Your sister might feel the same way. But instead of waiting for her to talk to you about her pain, ask her. She’ll likely tell you that she wants to be loved and cherished, that thoughts of fulfilling the pious vocations of wife and mother fill her head multiple times a day. She’ll probably tell you how hard it is to watch her friends get married and then have babies, and how it seems like, no matter which restaurant she goes to on the weekend, she runs into a bachelorette party or a toddler’s birthday, two of the most painful reminders of her alone-ness.
She wants to have a husband to come home to, a man to fix dinner for, a baby’s tiny Disney diapers to change, and a swaddled infant to rock to sleep at night. And while you can’t change how she feels, you can acknowledge that she feels something at all. You can tell her that it’s okay to long for those things that our Lord tells us are holy and good—spouses and children and families and life together. You can tell her that you’re sorry that she is hurting, that her pain is real and that she’s not crazy for feeling it. You can write a Sticky Note and slap it to her forehead that reads: “You may be lonely, but you are not alone.” You can tell her she has you and that she has her pastor, and that a loving sibling and a faithful pastor can be a fairly unstoppable duo.
You don’t have to fix her or give her advice. You simply have to agree that life—and all the suffering that comes with it—is difficult and that it is hard. That, some days, will be enough.
But you also point her again and again to Christ. You remind her that her value and her worth come from—not a husband or children—but from Christ on the cross. Tell her, in the midst of her sobbing and bitter words spoken in anger, that she is whole and perfect in Christ, broken no more. Pray with her, asking the Lord that His heart would be moved to grant your sister the desires of hers. And encourage her to go often to the Lord’s Supper, to private Confession and Absolution, to the place where Christ’s gives her Himself, the One who makes all things new.
Not talking about her pain doesn’t help. But neither does wallowing in it. Let her hurt. Let her cry. Let her throw a pan of brownies across a kitchen. (Not, you know, saying that I’ve done that or anything.) But remind her that the Lord’s plan for her is perfect and that it is best, despite how it feels, despite how it looks, despite how it seems. She may be barren, but she is whole in Christ. And that, even when she lays her head down on her pillow alone in bed at night, is the only thing that matters.