Unfulfilled desire can be painful. Not only that, but the stronger the desire, the deeper the pain when that desire is not fulfilled. For many couples, one of their deepest desires is to have children. When this desire is not met, it can become one of the most painful trials that they experience as a married couple.
Like any trial in marriage, not being able to have children can drive a couple further apart or can bring them closer together. What makes the difference?
A Word for Husbands: Care for Your Wives
There are many couples throughout the Old Testament who could not conceive: Abraham and Sarah; Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob and Rachel. Husbands would do well to look especially to the example of Isaac in this situation. In Genesis 25:21 we read these words:
“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.”
This verse is not promising that every time a husband prays for his wife that she will conceive. But it is demonstrating for husbands what their attitudes towards their wives should be. Isaac prays for his wife. He does not leave this as “her problem” or “her issue.” He prays “on behalf of his wife.”
Many times the wife will feel the need for children more strongly than the husband. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult for husbands to identify with the depth of longing that their wives have for a baby. That in itself is not wrong. But a husband who is seeking to love his wife “as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25) will seek to be very sensitive to her needs. Even if the husband never feels the depth of pain that his wife does, this should not prevent him from helping her to bear the burden as much as possible. Consider the following practical steps you can take to do this:
1. Pray for her and with her. This lets your wife know that you care about the things that are heavy on her heart. Make sure you take time to listen to the things that she feels she needs prayer for.
2. Support her in medical visits. If your wife is seeking medical advice and care regarding the infertility, support her as much as possible. If you are able, go with her to the doctor. If you cannot go with her, keep up with what she is learning from the doctors and let that guide your prayers for her. Again, show her you care about the things that concern her.
3. Do your part medically. If you are agreed on having children, but have not been able to, be open to having yourself checked to make sure that everything is all right.
4. Always build her up. Your wife needs to know that even though she has not had a child, she is still the woman of your dreams. She needs to know that even if in-laws or grandparents-to-be are disappointed, you are with her and beside her and that your love for her is not dependent upon having a child. Reassure her that you love her more today than when you first got married.
A Word for Wives: Be a Hannah, Not a Rachel
“When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I'll die!’ Jacob became angry with her and said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?’” (Genesis 30:1-2).
In this passage Rachel makes a common mistake when facing trials: she becomes angry with her spouse for something that is not his fault. Instead of turning to the Lord and bringing the pain of her trial to him, she gets angry with her husband and demands that he fix a problem that he has no power to fix.
Consider how different the response of Hannah is to her childlessness: “And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (1 Samuel 1:10). Is she going through severe pain? Absolutely. Does it feel like her heart will break? No question about it. But Hannah looks to the Lord and brings her pain to Him. The difference between Rachel and Hannah is not the amount of pain that they feel. The difference between Rachel and Hannah is how they deal with their pain. Rachel begins to take her pain out on her husband. Hannah takes her pain before the Lord.
A Word for Couples: Trust in God’s Sovereignty and Goodness
The Bible teaches us two cardinal truths about God: He is sovereign (in control of all things) and He is good. The fact that He is sovereign helps the childless couple to know that God’s plan for their lives has not been thwarted. In some cases He may still choose to bless you with children. In other cases He may not. In either case, though, He is in control.
The fact that He is good, though, helps the childless couple to know that God has their best interests in mind. Why does that include children for some couples – and sometimes for some couples who do not even want children! – and not for others? We simply do not know, just like we do not know why God allows some Christians to live healthy lives and other Christians to get sick. At the most basic level we know that God allows trials into our lives in order to make us more like Himself (Romans 8:28-29; James 1:2-4). Again, why this includes childlessness for some and not for others is something that we will often never know this side of heaven. But this is where faith comes in: choosing to believe that God is good even when life is hard.
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