The story of Mary is pretty incredible. An angel shows up and tells this innocent preteen that she’s going to have a baby, though she’s never done the deed necessary to produce such an end result, and that this baby will be the Son of God. Her response to this shocking announcement? “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
This account of the mother of Jesus should evoke sentiments of admiration, humility, and flat-out awe. Yet after sobbing my way through multiple Christmases without a child to call my own, what were my thoughts on this blessed woman? Stupid Mary. She got pregnant without even trying.
When you’re having difficulty trying to conceive, and your hope falls and rises each month with the comings and goings of Aunt Flow, you can feel like a loser. And when your head is stuck in loser mode, everyone else and everything else sucks, too. Even reading the Bible can add to the gloom, as God seems to neglect or reject your desire for a child, and you get to a verse like Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
The good news is that the Bible directly addresses the topic of infertility, recording stories of couples who struggled to conceive. The word “barren” occurs 24 times in 24 verses in the New King James, according to a quick Blue Letter Bible search. While I’d love to delve into all the implications this raises, I’ll just shoot Beth Moore an email asking her to do an in-depth study on infertility in the Bible and focus right now on the women Scripture highlights as those who wrestled with the inability to get pregnant.
“Wrestled” doesn’t do justice to describe the way some of these women acted. First off, you’ve got Sarah, the wife of Abraham, the forefather of God’s chosen people. She persuaded her husband to sleep with her maid to produce an heir, then basically exiled the maid out of jealousy (Genesis 16). Later, when God Himself came and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son, she laughed and cracked a self-accusatory old people joke (Genesis 18).
In a tale worthy of Real Housewives, Sarah casts out a
pregnant Hagar after convincing Abraham to sleep
with her to produce an heir. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens;
image courtesy Bible Top Ten.
Then there’s Rachel, who hoarded an arkload of mandrakes, the naturopathic fertility cure of the day, and took nagging to a whole ’nother level as she complained to her husband, Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” (Genesis 30) And of course there’s Hannah, who was such a wreck when she came to the temple begging the Lord for a baby that the priest thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1).
How encouraging are these stories? These ladies were as crazy as I was am.
Others handled their trials with more aplomb. We don’t know much about how Rebekah personally responded to her barrenness; just that Isaac prayed on behalf of his wife and the Lord answered him (Genesis 25). The woman who became Samson’s mother accepted the news from an angel of the Lord that she would bear a son who would help deliver Israel, and believed that God would follow up on that promise (Judges 13). Zacharias and Elizabeth, who waited years for their son John to come along, “walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” (Luke 1). God wasn’t punishing them with infertility; He was planning their pregnancy to come at just the right moment before the conception of His own Son.
Aside from these heartening stories, there’s another verse I want to highlight that’s as mystifying as it is comforting. Hebrews 11:11: “By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” [emphasis added]
Um, what? Are we talking about the same Sarah who laughed at God, to His face? This chick belongs in the class of Mean Girls of the Bible, not among the great cloud of witnesses listed in Hebrews 11. Yet there it is.
Sarah must’ve had some tiny measure of faith for the author of Hebrews to mention her. Remember, she did accompany her husband without any apparent complaint as they traveled through foreign countries to reach a promised land they never set foot in. She just had a hard time trusting the Lord about the whole baby thing.
Friends who are facing the disappointment of infertility and feeling like you’re not hacking it as a believer in Christ, take courage from these passages of Scripture and recognize that you are not a failure. Let me say it again: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE.
Your body may not be working right; your hormones might be a mess; you could be giving in to the sinful tendencies we all struggle with and giving up on the faith that God is working all things for your good, but you are not a failure. You are human. You need a Savior – more than you need a baby – more than any of us needs anything in this life.
So cut yourself some slack, sister. Accept the fact that His grace has got you covered for however long your waiting season is and beyond. Put your hope in the One whose love will never fail.