I am a barren woman. A barren woman nearly past the age where I must forever give up the hope of bringing forth God’s covenant seed and the joy of ever holding in my arms my very own baby. Barren—a word full of emptiness. Empty arms, empty home, empty heart. Barren—a lonely word, full of longing for what can never be. For several years now I have been thinking of writing an article on this subject. Why? Certainly not for sympathy. Your sympathy will do me no good. Neither will it dispel my barrenness. I do not need nor do I want your sympathy, because this is the way God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen for me and my dear husband to walk. Why then? For two reasons. Perhaps it may be some help to the couple who has just received the devastating news that they can never be parents. That they (especially the wife) may know that others have lived with emptiness; not just stoically lived with it but joyfully. Yes, as impossible as it seems, joyfully lived with it, giving thanks to God daily that He is directing your- life, and not you. This joy does not come easily nor quickly, but it is a peaceful sort of joy that comes through much prayer and time, through the working of God’s Spirit. I would not have believed this myself not so very long ago. The other reason? That you to whom God has given the wonderful privilege of raising His covenant seed may understand your sisters for whom God has given a different path to walk and so that you may more intelligently pray for their needs.
The first reaction to the news of your doctor that you and your husband can never be parents is one of disbelief. (Things like this do not happen to you, they happen to other people.) Then as each month goes by and you see that you-are not pregnant this month, nor the next, nor the next, then comes self-pity and a sort of helpless rebellion which can very easily, and often does, turn into bitterness which eats away at the container in which it is stored—you. Worse than this, it is sinful rebellion against none other than God.
The thing that the Christian barren woman has that the worldly one does not have is some place to go with her bitter sorrow. We can go to our loving heavenly Father and lay it at His feet. And we do this, but our problem is that when we finish praying we do not leave our burden there. We sinfully pick it up again. Instead of humbly praying, “Lord, behold thy handmaid. Do unto me what seemeth good in Thy sight,” the cry of Rachel to Jacob is wrung from our souls, “Give me children or else I die.” And when heaven seems impervious to this plea we ask, “Why?” Oh, my sister, be careful of this question. Perhaps the reason for your childlessness will be harder to live with than living without children. Do not press this question too far, or the Lord may show you why and you will wish you never knew. You will wish that you had had the faith to accept God’s answer to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” We have been taught from childhood to trust in God, for He directs our feet only in the paths that are good for us. This is .a11 easily done when God’s paths are paths that we ourselves would choose, but, oh, so hard when God’s path is just the opposite from what we want. Now is the time to put our faith into practice. We must learn to trust His way, knowing that He knows the end from the beginning and the very best way for us to reach that end by keeping obstacles from our path that may cause us to stumble. How having children could possibly cause me to stumble I do not know. But I know that God knows, and His wisdom is far above mine, which only sees one day at a time, not my life as a whole, nor the place for which I am being fitted in glory by the events of this life.
I would like to offer some advice for the barren women of our denomination. Advice I wish I had had when I was younger. Do not stay home from church on a Sunday when there is to be baptism. I know it is hard to listen to sermons on the wonderful privilege of mothers to devote their time to the high calling of bringing forth and raising God’s covenant seed. I know it is hard to sing Psalter #360, the 3rd verse: “Joyful children, sons and daughters, shall about thy table meet. Olive plants in strength and beauty, full of hope and promise sweet.” This is not easy for you, but do not stay at home. Instead, pray for grace to rejoice with the parents and the church that a new soul has been added to God’s church. Pray also for the parents, especially if they already have a large family and this new child may not be quite so welcome as the first one. Do not sinfully think only of your own empty arms. This is the Devil’s way of causing us to sin against the tenth commandment. “I can’t do this,” you say. Then you have not yet discovered the power of God’s grace. Pray for His grace that will allow you to rejoice and not weep. It took me many years to change my prayer from, “Give me a child also” to “Help me to rejoice with these parents.” When my prayer changed, so did my attitude.
May I add a note here to our ministers. Please remember the barren woman in your congregation who, after listening to all that the Lord has withheld from her (and no doubt, we who do not have children tend to see only the joys of motherhood and not the many sorrows and trying times in the raising of a family) may sinfully be feeling very sorry indeed for herself. I have often felt the need of more than the brief exhortation added to the end of the sermon that if the Lord has not given us the covenant seed to raise we must be content knowing that God does all things well. I know this and I take my comfort from this; for without this I do not believe I could carry this burden. My heart also goes out to the single women at this time. Try to make your sermon as meaningful for us as for the parents of the congregation.
There are the times that are hard for the couple without children, such as the hours between supper and bedtime. With children, there does not seem to be enough time, but without children there is much time that hangs heavy. But we may not waste these hours. We must use them wisely. God has given us this “extra” time. We can use it to prepare for Society and for the Sabbath. We can use it to develop the talents God has given us. So often we tend to think of talents as only being artistic or musical, but God has given other talents as well. The wonderful talent of comforting the sick and troubled in the church. We who do not have children have the time to do this, and we may not waste this talent. The talent of cooking and baking we so often think we cannot use to its full, because who will eat all the things we cook and bake? How about families in the church in which the mother is sick? I don’t mean only from a hospital stay. The flu can keep a mother from preparing good meals, and I am sure that a meal and perhaps prepared lunches for husband and children to take to work and school the next day would be welcome. Let it be known that it would be a joy and a privilege for you if mothers would feel free to call on you in times of sickness.
Are you good with children even though the Lord did not give you any of your own? How about offering to babysit so that the parents may attend Society?
Often times the barren couple’s life is made more barren still because they are not included in much of the social life of the church. They do not have children in school, and so do not attend PTA, nor do they know much about what the school’s activities are and so do not have much to contribute to the conversation on this and other child-related subjects which make up much of the life of the couple with a family. There is something you can do about this. Join the Mother’s Circle of your school. You may not be a mother, but you are interested in the school, and they are always ready to welcome new members to help with their projects. This will give you something in common with the parents and will help you to feel you are not so much of an outsider. Offer to teach Sunday School, or perhaps return to college and become a teacher in one of our Christian Schools. I know of one woman who did this; and she has told me that even though this was the farthest thing from her mind when she was younger, she has always been glad that the Lord opened this door for her. She has come to know and love many children, and, much to her surprise, they have returned her love. It has also made her life more like the lives of her friends in the church. She now has PTA to attend when they do and can talk with friends about the same things they do. Of, if you think you cannot teach, offer to drive the school bus. This also gives you more in common with your friends.
Do not become irritated when you invite friends to visit and they say, “You come here. It is much easier for you to come here. You do not have to lug any kids along.” Tell them that you like to visit in their home, but that you like to entertain in your own home as well. Buy some toys and books and have a place for the children to play. Sometimes it goes better when you ask more than one family at a time. The children then have each other to play with.
Holidays do not have to be dreaded because you do not have a family to celebrate with. Invite other families to celebrate with you. Again, it is sometimes better to ask more than one family so the children have others to play with.
One thing a husband without children feels more strongly than his wife is that this branch of the covenant seed ends with him. There is no one to carry on the family name in the church. We must trust God’s wisdom in this matter also. He is the One Who builds His church. My husband and I did not adopt children. This did not seem to be the way the Lord had for us. I have talked to couples who have adopted children, and they have been very happy that they have done so. Their adopted children have given them much joy, but some have also caused them terrible heartaches. But this is true of natural children also. I highly recommend adoption if, after prayer, it seems that the Lord has someone else’s child or children for you to raise. Bear in mind that this can often be more difficult than raising your own natural child, simply because of heredity. The experts tell us that the way a child develops is due 85% to heredity and 15% to environment. Yet I believe that God uses this means to bring His covenant seed into the church.
he barren couple has one thing that the couple with children do not have. We have the time and opportunity really to get to know each other. We have the opportunity to do things together and to find joy in one another’s company. Often one hears of the couples with children who, during the children’s growing years, grow apart-she busying herself with the children, he busying himself in his job; and when the children are grown and out of the house the husband and wife find themselves with nothing in common. It is my belief that the barren couple come to love each other more than couples with children simply because of the time they have alone together. As I said before, this time should be used wisely. It must not be wasted in self-pity or in selfish pursuit of pleasure or wealth. There are opportunities God opens for us: perhaps the opportunity of traveling and seeing the marvelous wonders of His beautiful creation, perhaps the opportunity to help financially in Kingdom work.
As I said at the beginning, a barren woman can lead a life filled with joy when she lives out of the knowledge that God’s blessing does indeed rest upon her and her husband, remembering always God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10, “I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee.” The secret is in those last four words. Then we can say with the Psalmist, “The lines have fallen unto me in places large and fair. A goodly heritage is mine,marked out with gracious care.” Yes, with God’s gracious care-graciously keeping us on the path He has so wisely chosen for us. Do not sinfully long for the other path of your own choosing, for He has carefully marked out this one for us in His love and wisdom which is far above ours.
[Editor’s note. The article submitted was not anonymous, but in this instance I exercised my editor’s power to respect the wish of the author not to include her name. The reason was not that she or I wished to kindle your curiosity and have you engage in a guessing game. That will be futile. The writer’s expressed wish was that every minister consider the possibility that the author is a barren woman in his own congregation.]