It was fall of 2001, my junior year of college. We were in the pool room of a christian fraternity house, and I was playing with my best friend’s two year old son. “You’re going to be such a good mommy,” a friend told me. I still remember the outfit I was wearing: bowling inspired shoes on my feet, jeans cuffed, and a black turtleneck sweater. Those words were the best compliment I could ever have received.
At the moment, I dreamed of getting married and having children. I never anticipated that years of waiting and hoping and trying would be our journey.
Year after year, as friends have their second, third, and twelveth child, the small voice nags in my brain: Why? Why us? Why this long?
Interestingly enough, two words are not found in my Bible’s concordance: why and providence. So I had to do my own digging to find the Spirit-inspired words that would soothe my questions and stoke my faith.
I read about Sarai in Genesis 16. Rachel in Genesis 30. And Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. And I began noticing a consistent theme.
… the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. (Genesis 16:1)
Am I in the place of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb? (Genesis 30:2)
… he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb. (1 Samuel 1:5)
I began reading my favorite commentaries, desperate for some profound truth that would provide an ounce of encouragement, and was quickly disappointed. The first handful I picked up sort of skipped over the fact that these women could not conceive. Early on in our story, I knew I would struggle on a much deeper level than my husband. It’s just how God created us – with a need to procreate. Built to be mommies. And when the pregnancies don’t happen as quickly or as easily as they should, I fought it much more emotionally than Josh. It’s just not something men fully understand. And please hear my heart on this – I’m not bashing men. In fact, I’m so incredibly thankful that Josh hasn’t wrestled all these years. I love that he’s about as black and white as a person can get. And he believes, still, that God will do it. His faith balances mine. In the heat of an emotional moment, I usually don’t love it. In fact, I get downright angry about it. But it helps me bounce back faster, dry my tears, and pull myself up by my bootstraps. If he wasn’t like that, I would be a puddle on the floor.
So I read my commentaries. And was disappointed in what I found. Sometimes even offended… until I realized the offense was actually conviction. One commentator described Rachel’s emotional and dramatic outburst in Genesis 30 as a most reprehensible speech that argues not only envy and jealousy, but also a total want of dependance on God. At the time, I thought the words were unnecessarily harsh as the truth of them stung my own desperation.
But sometimes the more harsh words are required to snap me out of a funk. Give me children lest I die is fairly dramatic. To her credit, Rachel watched her sister conceived four times (with Rachel’s husband, I might add) before she exploded. I feel her pain – swinging so vastly and quickly from waiting and trusting the LORD to desperately finding ways to make it happen myself. Spending $15,000 on one round of in vitro fertilization (with only a 30% success rate) sounded so exorbitantly expensive then. Suddenly, it doesn’t sound so bad.
As I read these raw stories of women at their emotional breaking points, I wondered: why is it that God opens the womb of one woman (Genesis 29:31) and closes the womb of another (Genesis 30:2)?
Assuming Leah had her children back to back, Rachel was about four years into her infertility. And while I (probably) wouldn’t take it to the dramatic extreme she did, I feel her pain. In the same breath, I haven’t had to watch my sister also be married to my husband and have baby after baby after baby after baby.
Finally, after Rachel’s husband became a father eleven times over with her sister, her maid, and her sister’s maid … finally:
God remembered Rachel and God listened to her and opened her womb.
– Genesis 30:22
Strangely enough, it appears as if this was the first time Rachel actually prayed for this. As Adam Clarke points out, her prayer and faith obtained what her impatience and unbelief prevented. And I realized that Rachel envied her sister and two other women for years before she finally trusted God with her pain. LORD help my faith overcome by impatience and unbelief.
In that day, barrenness was a reproach. Today, I still feel it. The silence, uncomfortableness of it. Feeling separated from the group. Sitting awkwardly as women chatter on with stories of their kids, and throwing in the occasional “Josh did that one time” joke.
But it’s His providence that has me here. Right here. In this place. For eighty-nine months. I don’t want to be envious or jealous. I don’t want to wallow in sorrow, self-pity and unbelief. I want to come out on top, my faith in tact.
I turned to 1 Samuel 1. I read one commentary. And a second. And a third. Still not a word about the fact that God closed Hannah’s womb. The lack of attention that the writers gave to something that has brought me to tears more times than I can count. But the inspired word of God allowed me to connect with these women across time and history. And I learn it’s ok to talk about it. To be emotional. To know the number of months I’ve waited when our culture says “don’t think like that. When you stop paying attention you’ll get pregnant.”
Hannah was in bitterness of soul, praying to the LORD and weeping bitterly. And the cross-reference to that verse? Job 7:11. A man that knows suffering.
Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. To God. Just like Hannah. Pouring it all out to Him, because He is the only one that gets it. And He has the incredible ability to lay the tree in the bitter waters of my heart and make them sweet. (Exodus 15:22-26)
God thank You that above all, You are fully in control. You hear every prayer I pray and see every tear I cry. Help me trust Your providence.