“Porous Boundaries”

In his article “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple” (Christianity Today, May 2017), Matthew Lee Anderson openly addresses the well-meaning but oft-misplaced correlation the Church makes between the barren and adoption:

“Within the church, the pressure to have children is compounded by the rapidly expanding adoption movement. The correlation of infertility and God’s calling to adopt is sometimes left implied, but is more frequently overt and direct. But as writer Kevin White has observed, there is no more good that needs doing in this world than each of us are commanded to accomplish. The general exhortation to love one’s neighbor may sometimes require a couple to adopt, but sometimes it may not; infertility does not on its own make adoption obligatory. In fact, infertile couples might be uniquely at risk of treating adopted children as a means of fulfilling their own frustrated desires for a biological child, reducing them to an instrument of the parents’ happiness. It is tempting to view adoption as a path toward alleviating our own suffering and emptiness, rather than an expression of charity toward the child. In its ideal form, the call to adopt expands the horizons of a couple’s imaginations for their lives. Yet in its institutionalized expression, it risks reducing adoption to an obligation upon the infertile, which would undermine its gratuitous character.

Which is not to say that those who choose medical intervention or adoption are selfish. By no means! But like any good, they can tempt toward idolatry, transforming human life and God’s graciousness from a gift to an earned reward for years of hard work and pain. 

The church might want to resist the pressure for marriages to have children through any means possible, and hold on instead to infertility as a unique and irreplaceable witness within its inner life. It is easy to look at such sadness and think that if we can avoid it, we are best off doing so. But the church might lose something crucial if there are no childless marriages in our midst. That we can make children through IVF does not entail that we should. But widespread acceptance of IVF means that we risk forgetting both the struggles of permanent barrenness and its unique virtues. The special vocation of the infertile means recalling the church to goods that our technologically sophisticated world has forgotten and obscured.”

Anderson goes on to explain that barren marriages give testimony to the true Source of life:

“One aspect of the vocation of the infertile is that the frustrated willingness to bear children reminds the church that our children are gifts from Providence. The glad assumption of sorrow and laments – a paradoxical, but necessary form of life – by those who are barren testifies within the church (and beyond) that the power to make new life comes from God and not from ourselves. Children are not made; they are given. Man and woman throw themselves upon the grace of fate in trying to bring a child into the world. The emergence of new human life is a miracle, as the infertile well know.”

Yes, we do.

Anderson also explains that the “porous boundaries” of the barren’s paternal and maternal love “take their form beyond the walls of the family” and “allow for strangers and neighbors to receive gifts they would not know otherwise.”

“[I]nfertile couples help expand the scope of familial love. Like adoptive couples, their ongoing hope bears witness to the church that the most basic character of parenthood is not biological. But unlike adoptive couples, the infertile must extend their marital and parental love outside the family itself. Maternal and paternal love are not given only to mothers and fathers, biological or otherwise. They are the mature form of married love, and thus are available to any couple, fertile or not. The glory of the union of man and woman can be given to others through non-biological, non-procreative means.”

Even as we wait on the Lord for children of our own, sisters, let us not neglect our God-given “porous boundaries.”


Anderson, Matthew Lee. “Why the Church Needs the Infertile Couple.Christianity Today. May 2017: 49-52.