How to Care for the Barren

The Great Temptation

The great temptation of barrenness is to believe that God’s blessed favor will only come to you in the form of a child of your own.

Well, it doesn’t, though it does come in the form of a child – the child Jesus, born to die for your sins.

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; Break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!” (Isaiah 54:1 and Galatians 4:27 [ESV])

God’s blessed favor is for you.

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“To the barren ladies I know and the ones I don’t”

bleeding-heart-flower copySomeone loves you and prays for you and bears with you, dear sisters. Read this and rest today while a sister in Christ shoulders your cross.

I’m the one with more children than you have fingers on your right hand. I feel ostentatious and gaudy around you. I feel like having my babies with me is in poor taste, like I am flaunting my riches. I cringe to imagine that you might feel the same way, you who have suffered so much in your own mind and who are now subjected in real time, in public, to stare in the face the dream that hasn’t come true for you. I am so sorry it hasn’t. I am so sorry to think that I might be causing you more pain. I ache for the love you show my silly little people. I don’t know if I could.

I sin your sins. When I see all the world’s human trash with its ill-bred and empirically worthless children, I seethe to think of the pearls cast before them while your clean neck and open ears and graceful wrists and industrious fingers are bare. When another moron teenager turns up pregnant, I want to rage at God for what I can only see as unimaginable injustice and just plain poor planning. I want to make it right. I want to distribute the world’s children sensibly by my own self-righteous fiat. I want YOU, you wonderful, smart, talented, responsible, faithful Christian person, to be a mother of nations. NOT THEM.

I see it. I didn’t want to, but I loved you so much I finally looked and really saw it, or saw it as well as one such as myself is able to. It was the worst thing I have ever seen. It looks like utter desolation, like horror. I can’t look long. I can’t believe it’s the view out your window every hour of every day. Oh, you. You have lost what you never had.

But I know also that we are nearsighted. I am so nearsighted outside of this metaphor that, without my glasses, I can look into a dark bedroom where I know there is a digital clock and still see no light whatsoever. This is how we see into eternity also. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. So I know that, despite its appearance to myopics like us, the desolation is not utter. I know you know too, and we walk by faith together because our sight is untrustworthy.

I cannot tell you how much I respect and admire you for not trying to take by force what God has not given. You are like the man on a lifeboat, crazy with thirst, who still knows better than to drink seawater even though his companions fall to the temptation. It must be so hard to watch them–to watch them sicken, to watch them die, to watch them live. You are the one who clings to a true hope and has the best chance of healthy survival. You trust the Lord, though he slay you.

I thank you for the witness that you are to the sacred blessing of marriage no matter what the quantifiable yield of that marriage. I thank you for the witness you are to the inherent value of femininity no matter what the quantifiable yield of that femininity.

I don’t say these things to you because I feel I don’t know you well enough, or I don’t know how you are doing with all this right now, or I know you feel as sick of this being the relentless topic of your life as I am of the relentless topics of my life. But I want you to know that I am always thinking all these things even as you are, and I pray for you always. I’m sorry if my not saying something makes it seem like I don’t care or I don’t really get it. I know I don’t really get it, but I try to, and I care so much.

I know you feel empty, but you bear the heaviest burden, and bearing is never without gain. God bless you, strong one.

Glory vs. Cross

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened [Rom 1:20]. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened. (Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Disputation, points 19-22)

For example:

A theologian of glory calls barrenness a trial to be overcome, a burden which can be revoked by some great act of faith on our part, a curse that can be lifted by true love’s kiss. (Works Cited: My Own Wishes and Desires: A Treatise, The Complete Works of Joel Osteen, and The Wisdom of the Disney Princesses)

A theologian of the cross calls barrenness a terrible brokenness of the flesh which results from Sin in the world, a cross to be endured joyfully in light of Christ’s promise to make all things new on The Last Day, a suffering given to us by God who loves us and molds us and disciplines us and shapes us and points us straight to Christ’s own suffering on the cross for our own salvation and comfort. (Works Cited: God’s Word as revealed in The Book of Romans)

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Bowling

MP900405096I am reading your blog. (Yes, I mean you.)

And I understand the temptation to rant. People really do say awful things to you. They publicly drill you for details about your sex life (which is no one else’s business but your husband’s), suggest home remedies for amping up fertility (which you tried five years ago when the ideas first came out in Redbook), and generally pry and poke and dig at you because you dared cry at sewing circle when Mrs. Jones announced her daughter’s pregnancy.

I understand. It stinks to be on the receiving end of such tactless attentions, but there is something else that needs understanding in these situations.

There will always be bowling balls in your life.

There will always be people who take aim at your barrenness and flatten your feelings like a bunch of pins down a waxy lane. These people spare no verbal expense but always go for the strike, recklessly voicing their expectations for your womb, opining on projected reasons for your childlessness, and offering up armchair diagnoses of your health for the benefit of, well, I guess, themselves. It doesn’t matter where you are or what you think, say, or do. These hooks, crankers, and tweeners are going to seek you out and hit you full-on like a 16-pounder.

But, for the most part, everyone else in this world takes their conversation cues from you. They won’t talk about your barrenness unless you bring it up; they won’t make suggestions about your diet unless you openly discuss your metabolic problems; they won’t offer up ideas for how to get pregnant unless you share with them your desire for a child and subsequent frustration in your childlessness; they won’t try to help you feel better unless you look miserable; in other words, they won’t dwell on that which you don’t dwell.

So, let’s give the world a break and take some responsibility for the conversations we keep. Let’s not blog-blame others for finishing the conversations we start ourselves and, instead, kindly explain to our friends and acquaintances face-to-face what we need most from them.

And as for the bowling balls who barrel towards us unprompted, well, “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 ESV).

That’s good news, I think.

Lord Jesus Christ, in Your deep compassion You rescue us from whatever may hurt us. Teach us to love You above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. (Collect for July, 14, 2013, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

Retreat Reflections

What happens when a bunch of barren (infertile? fruitless? we tried brainstorming a less archaic term for childlessness, but nothing fit so well as the Biblical word in the end) women get together for a weekend getaway in St. Louis?

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Well, of course, some things will forever be top secret, but here’s what I can tell you:

Much Rolland hospitality was enjoyed.

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Many gluten-and-dairy-free desserts prepared by Gina and her beautiful family were consumed.

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Unseasonable spring weather was soaked up.

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Colorful skeins of yarn were knitted.

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Multiple medical questions were answered by Dr. Gosser.

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Several hymns and spiritual songs were sung with Pastor Cholak.

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Thoughtful gifts were exchanged. Frequent, girly laughter was heard. Honest tears were shed. Memories were made, and hours of sleep were lost.

And, last but not least, our designated night out on the town happened to be the same evening as the naked-bike-ride-thingy to raise awareness for something bearing worldly importance. So, yep, some free range breasts were witnessed by the churchy eyes of our dear retreaters.

In all seriousness, Rebecca and I have never witnessed such a group of patient, loving women who listened to each other with all forbearance and bore with each other so selflessly. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

After sharing so much with each other, it was difficult walking away after church on Sunday. We all lingered and then lingered some more. The goodbyes were not the hyperemotional departures of youthful summer campers, but the looks, hugs, and quiet words exchanged were meaningful. How do you say goodbye to ones who have gone to the trenches with you?

All I could think to say was, “Thank you.”

Happy trails to you, dear sisters, and Christ keep you.

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A Tiny Suggestion

This post is not for the barren but for those who love the barren.

Dear, dear friends:

Thank you.

Thank you for reading this blog.

Thank you for loving your barren friend, for praying for her, for listening to her, for taking care of her physical needs, for encouraging her to go to church, and for reminding her of God’s promises made to her in Holy Writ and kept for her by Christ on the cross. Outside of these tried-and-true methods of help, it can be hard to know exactly what else you can do to support your barren friend as she bears the cross of childlessness. You may be tempted on occasion (in love and with the best of intentions) to forward on one of our posts directly to your barren friend’s personal email account. You may think that what we have said on here is something she needs to hear.

But, consider this bit of correspondence I recently received from a barren woman.

“Today I was ambushed by several well-intentioned friends with ‘helpful’ articles meant to encourage me, but they did just the opposite. They reminded me of my hurt.”

Personally forwarded posts have an air of projected expectation about them. They often read like law, as if you are suggesting to your barren friend through the post exactly how she should be feeling, what she should be doing, and how she should be enduring her grief and pain. If your barren friend is currently in the denial, anger, or depression stages of her grief cycle, then she does not need instruction on how to handle her grief. She needs simply to endure it.

What your barren friend really wants during these stages of grief is for you to listen to her, to sit with her in the stinking pit of pain, and to tell her that you love her.

I am not saying that it is never appropriate to share HRTB posts with her directly. I am simply saying that patient endurance of your friend’s long-suffering is a way of supporting her that will feel less like you are instructing her in her grief and more like you are loving her.

Which, we know, you always are.

So, thank you for patiently bearing with us, with our heightened emotions, with our perpetual bouncing back and forth between the stages of grief, and with all that comes with crosses.

We need you.

XOXO

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A stellar spot for listening

Is procreation an intrinsic quality of marriage?

Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signQuestion Submitted: At a recent theological symposium, I posited that we in the Church need “to return to teaching properly about the positive locus of marriage – teaching about its procreative purpose and nature.” Another attendee replied in part that “procreation is NOT an intrinsic quality of marriage, as we do not say the infertile are not married.” If I had had a chance for rebuttal, I would have pointed out the error of his logic. Bipedalism is an intrinsic quality of humans, despite the sad reality of paraplegia. It would be very helpful to hear how you would counter the idea that infertility invalidates the argument that procreation is an intrinsic quality of marriage. I have my own answers to this false argument, but I would like to make sure I have an answer that is sensitive to the minds of those who suffer from infertility.

My pastors taught me that God institutes and defines marriage in Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. We learn in verses 1:27-28 that God created man in His own image; male and female He created them, and He blessed them. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, and God saw that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

The gift of procreation is not only a blessing God speaks over marriage, but God sees the blessing of children as good.

Barrenness is not good. Barrenness is a brokenness of God’s good creation. Endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, low sperm motility, ovarian and cervical cancers, miscarriages, childlessness, and the groaning of all creation came about as a result of man’s fall into Sin; and we don’t use the effects of Sin to redefine that which God institutes and calls “good” in His Word, nor do we use the effects of Sin to defend the notion that procreation is somehow not a part of God’s intrinsic design of marriage. That is my biggest qualm with the other attendee’s rhetoric. His thesis does not fully confess barrenness as a post-Fall reality. Barrenness proves nothing about God’s procreative intent for marriage other than that God, post-Fall, allows the cross of barrenness to burden the shoulders of some married couples.

In regards to being sensitive to the barren, we should be careful not to turn God’s good, fruitful blessing for marriage into man’s good work. Scripture tells us that having children is not a law of God for us to keep but a heritage from Him for us to receive (Psalm 127:3). None of us would have children apart from God’s merciful blessing and giving. Only God in His wisdom knows why He does not open the wombs of the barren, and we should not burden the consciences of those who are unable to have children by suggesting they should be able to outwit the very Author of Life.

And as for using the existence of barrenness as an excuse to avoid the gift of children in marriage, I can think of no place in Scripture where God calls that good.

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Playing Cards and Poker Chips“How long have you been married?”

In years past, it didn’t matter what number I answered. The interrogator always one-upped me.

“Three years? Oh, don’t worry! You’ve got plenty of time. My husband and I didn’t even start trying until year five.”

“Five years? No problem! My mother didn’t have me until she and my dad had been married for seven years.”

“Seven years? No sweat! Mrs. Smith finally got pregnant on her eighth anniversary, so you better hurry up and finish that book before you get pregnant.”

“Eight years? You haven’t even been married a decade. God is just making you wait, so you will appreciate children more.”

“Ten years? A couple in my church started the adoption process at ten years, and then they got pregnant.” 

But there is something different about the number eleven. This year, my interrogators are tripping over my answer. Their open mouths, ready to counteract the five or seven or nine they are anticipating, clam up in response.

Apparently, the eleven card is trump.

(Cue flood of emails from people whose family and friends got pregnant in year eleven.)

In all seriousness, I know that the comments listed above were meant to bring me comfort, but they actually made me feel sad, even angry. Not only had I failed up to that point to produce a child in my marriage, but now I had to bear other people’s hopes and expectations on top of my own. What if I didn’t get pregnant like Mrs. Smith? Double failure. Double disappointment. Double pain.

It is tricky business reassuring a barren woman of the inevitability of pregnancy during year X of marriage, because she knows better. She is no fool. God has not promised her in His Word that she will be given the gift of a child, and every year of her life thus far attests to that reality. She knows Who it is that gives the gift of children, and she can call to mind ten barren women who have not gotten pregnant in year X for every suggested one who has. Add to that fact the burning desire she has for a child of her own, and the calling to mind of others who have already been given that gift from God can lead her to covetousness.

What is a good, helpful response to the number she gives to the marriage question? How about the truth?

“God has richly blessed you with X years of marriage! I pray He will continue to bless you and your husband in the years ahead.”

See? No false promises + some celebration = a lovely, little bit of correspondence.

So You Want to Be a Mother?

I don’t know why God in His wisdom has not yet given us the gift of children. I don’t know why the pregnancy tests keep coming back negative. I don’t know why the adoption referrals are falling through.

But, here’s what I do know. Our desire to be mothers is good and right and God-given, so we don’t need to be afraid to be mothers today even without children of our own.

Be a mother of mothers and pray for your friends and family with children. Invite them all over for dinner, make that decadent trifle for dessert, and set a bucket of water balloons out in your front yard for a little impromptu playtime. Give those hard-working moms a break and watch their children while you send them off to the spa for an afternoon. Stick some grocery cards in their purses, accompany them on school field trips, and listen to what they have to say about life and mothering and everything in between.

Be a mother to the fatherless. Donate your time and talents to your local crisis pregnancy center, advocate for the rights of frozen embryos, speak honestly and openly about the effects of abortion on children, women, men, and our communities, raise money for adoption grants and orphanages, and hold the hands of teen mothers during ultrasounds.

Be a mother to the children in your church. Teach Sunday school, lead the children’s choir, make punch for VBS, sew quiet books and baptismal banners for the youngest saints, serve as godparents, chaperone a youth trip, and sit with frazzled parents who would like help wrangling their children during the sermon.

Be a mother to the elderly. Pick up sticks in their yards after a storm, give them rides to Walgreens, check out books for them from the library, weed their flower beds, sit with them and listen to their stories about the past, play the piano for them at your local nursing facility, and help alert your pastor as to when they require pastoral care.

Be a mother to a soldier. Write letters to him, send him Twizzlers, crochet him scarves, and pray for him every day. Make sure his family has plenty of money to pay their bills. Take his children to Chuck E. Cheese’s. Offer childcare once a week so his wife can run necessary errands. Attend his children’s sporting events and school concerts.

Be a mother to your pastor. Pray for him, speak well of him, defend him, and encourage him at every opportunity. Bring him produce from your garden, fill his freezer with beef from your pasture, and bake him an apple pie. Volunteer in whatever way you can at church and make sure his shoes never have holes in them. Serve on the altar guild and set the table for the Lord’s Supper every Sunday. Water the flowers on the altar and care for the vestments and paraments in the sacristy. Go to church and receive from him the gifts of Christ.

Be a mother to the dying and sit at their bedsides. Read to them the Psalms, confess to them the Apostles Creed, and sing into their ears those precious words of light and life which can be found in your hymnal.

I know you want to be a mother. Go ahead. Be a mother wherever you are, just as you are, to the children and people God has put in your life today.

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