“Am I going to continue to trust God, even if he never fulfills the longings of my heart?”
That question filled my mind after the doctor informed me that I was born with a somewhat rare medical condition that prevented me from bearing my own babies. The news almost devastated me. I’m the oldest girl in a large family, and I’ve always desired to have a big family of my own one day. For the first time in my life, I faced a situation I couldn’t quickly fix or work my way out of. It didn’t seem fair. With a tear-stained face, I entered into the greatest wrestling match of my life with the Lord.
Where was God in my childlessness?
How does the Bible speak to my suffering?
Why would God withhold apparent good from me?
Maybe you’ve asked similar questions. Maybe you’ve struggled month after month to get pregnant, to no avail. Maybe you’ve lost a precious little one by miscarriage. Maybe you’ve had one child, but are experiencing second hand infertility and another baby won’t come. Infertility affects approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population—over one in ten couples! According to estimates, roughly 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. will end in miscarriage. These numbers don’t encompass the number of single women that desire to be mothers, but motherhood isn’t coming. Childlessness touches the lives of so many precious souls.
The Gospel and Childlessness
As I searched scripture for hope in the midst of my suffering, I learned that the pages of the Bible weren’t silent on the topic of childlessness. God met me in the midst of my longing for motherhood. Seven barren women are highlighted in the Bible. One of the most striking stories is Hannah’s. Scripture says that she was “deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” Her prayers were so fervent, in fact, that Eli the priest thought she was drunk.
I’m glad the Lord included the struggles of other women like myself—women longing to be mothers. The good news the gospel offers in the midst of our pain is that our identity isn’t in our ability to bear babies. The greatest role of a woman is not to be a mother, but rather to glorify God with our whole lives in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Biblical womanhood is about boldness, tenacity, tender heartedness, and loving the Lord and his people.
Specifically, the gospel impacts the way we perceive and respond to childlessness by speaking into our situation, redirecting our gaze, and offering us hope.
The Gospel Speaks Into Our Suffering
One of Jesus’ most tender moments is when he visited Mary and Martha a few days after Lazarus died. He entered their town of Bethany and entered into their grief. His response wasn’t to offer answers to their suffering, or to quickly resolve their suffering. Read his tender response below:
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him. ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.” -John 11:33-35
Jesus stood by the tomb and wept with Mary and Martha. He offered his presence and his compassion. God often doesn’t give us answers, he gives us himself.
On my hardest days, one of the most precious promises I cling to is the fact that Jesus promises never to leave or forsake me.
The Gospel Redirects Our Vision
A baby won’t ultimately satisfy my soul. Only God can do that.
While grieving has a place in our lives, and it’s right and good to grieve a dream deferred or an unfulfilled desire, we shouldn’t place our hope in good gifts.
Children aren’t a guaranteed right from the Lord. Motherhood isn’t a promise from God that we can cling to. That’s a hard truth to grapple with, but when we’re met with unfulfilled desires, we can use it as a chance to press into the promises of God.
When our heart is torn into pieces.
When the Lord hasn’t answered our questions.
When we don’t know if everything will be okay.
When the Lord hasn’t promised to work in the ways that we want.
When the pain threatens to overshadow our vision of the Lord.
Hold onto the Lord’s promises to us in scripture:
He promises to be present.
He promises us his love.
He promises us his grace.
He promises to sustain us.
He promises us his aid.
He promises steadfastness.
He promises provision.
The Gospel Gives Us Hope
In his book Spiritual Depression, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones discusses the importance of talking to your soul and of instructing your soul toward hope and toward healing. In fact, he said that the main art in the matter of spiritual living is knowing how to handle yourself. The Psalmists give us an excellent example of what this looks like, and we can echo their words, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?”
Dear one, learn to talk to your soul, instead of automatically accepting every emotion and every feeling that comes your way. A practical way to do this when you’re feeling depressed or sorrowful is to pause and talk to yourself.
I often try to find a quiet place where I can be alone and say aloud, “Chelsea, you’re feeling a lot of things right now, and it’s completely okay to feel them. However, you can’t stay in these feelings forever. What can you do in this moment to take steps toward hope?” I’ll then spend time reciting some of God’s promises.
I’ve had to remind myself that my feelings aren’t bad, but they can’t be my guiding light. Hope isn’t a fluffy feeling. Biblical truth should inform our feelings, and hope should be the thing we strive for. May our emotions submit to God’s promises and truth. As you do this, cling to and pray these words: “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. . . . Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” .
Even if we never have that longed for baby; even if our family looks different than we’d imagine, we can rest in the fact that the Lord promises his presence. In him, we can find hope. Press into him and allow him to speak life into your soul.
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. Chelsea was adopted as a newborn from Bucharest, Romania, grew up in North Carolina, and then graduated from Liberty University. She has written for The Gospel Coalition, 9 Marks, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Patheos Evangelical channel, on a wide variety of topics including culture, current events, and Christian living. Chelsea and her husband Michael live in Washington, D.C.