“The waters surged around me up to my neck; the deep enveloped me…But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD, my God.” – Jonah 2:6-7

From the belly of the beast, “from the womb of Sheol,” Jonah cries, and the Lord hears him.

As a child, I saw Jonah as the embodiment of disobedience. Because Jonah “fled away from the Lord,” God sent a great storm and an even greater fish to swallow him whole – a great punishment for his rejection of God. I saw Jonah asking for God’s mercy and God allowing the fish to vomit him on dry land only after Jonah was truly repentant.

As a child, I saw Jonah’s fellow sailors as volatile, evil men, casting lots to decide another man’s fate, and praying to any and every god that would calm the storm.

As a child, I saw God as a God of Strength, a God of Justice, but mostly, a God of Vengeance.

Then, in the belly of my own beast of infertility, I read the story again.

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah, a son of Amittai, ‘Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness has come before me.’ But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish, away from the LORD.” (Jonah 1:1-3)

When I reread this verse, I saw Jonah and I saw Jonah’s fear. The fear of what God had planned for his future. The fear of being an outsider in a foreign land. The fear of seeing God’s mercy fall on those he deemed unworthy.

In Jonah, I saw my own fears. The fear of missing a “peak ovulation” window. The fear of having less than 1% chance to conceive naturally. The fear of ignoring our loved ones’ pleas to continue with artificial reproductive treatments. The fear and jealousy caused by baby showers, pregnancy announcements, and milestone posts.

Jonah wasn’t fleeing out of disobedience, as I once believed. Jonah was afraid.

He ran to a westbound boat bound for a new life, an equally scary prospect; however, now Jonah was in control. With his life in his own hands, he could sleep easily and sleep he did. He slept in the hull while the waves and rocking intensified. He slept through the first clap of thunder, an imminent sign of the oncoming storm. He slept as his desperate crewmates threw out all the cargo to survive the night. He slept until the chaos of life came crashing down, threatening his very life, asking him “Who is your GOD?”

Immediately after our diagnosis, I remember running to my computer, scrambling to take control of our situation. We used technology, diets, exercise, and ovulation timing to wrestle back a sense of control – all without success. The waves were ebbing with an increasing urgency, but we were dreaming of the day we would become parents.

Shortly thereafter, we started the gamut of artificial reproductive treatments. Through these treatments, we felt like we had gained the much-needed control of our lives for which we had been longing. With the additional ovulation induction hormones required each cycle, the fertility waves grew higher and higher. At the crest of each wave, we could see the future we had dreamed of, only to come crashing down again in the darkest troughs.

Still the dream persisted, and the storm peaked.

Family, friends, our communication, God – all these were precious cargo that we threw overboard in pursuit of our goal of becoming parents. My wife and I were a crew of two. We threw off our hobbies. We threw off our pregnant friends. We threw off our parents and their painful condolences and suggestions. We threw off our own communication, each afraid that the other would want to stop. Finally, we tried to throw off God, our life raft, through our pursuit of artificial reproductive treatments.  We threw off His will for our lives and the safety and comfort that only He can provide. When there was nothing left to discard, the ground still shook beneath us.

And then what? Were we punished for our digression and refusal to trust in God? Did God send the great fish of infertility to swallow us whole until He spit us back out, reformed? We only need to look to Jonah. Unlike what I had thought as a child, Jonah’s conversion didn’t happen inside the belly of the beast. Instead, we see Jonah, on the boat, in the midst of the chaos, declaring “I FEAR THE LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” At that moment, Jonah placed his fear of the Lord ahead of his fear of the future. How else can we explain Jonah willingly offering himself to be thrown overboard? How else can we explain Jonah’s prayer of gratitude after he was swallowed whole and dragged under the waves?

Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by the great fish after he trusted God with his future. Inside the great fish, we see Jonah reciting a prayer of gratitude.

“When I became faint, I remembered the LORD; My prayer came to you in your holy temple.” (Jonah 2:8)

Just as I had misunderstood the story of Jonah as a child, I similarly misunderstood my own infertility journey. At first, I thought that God sent the great fish of infertility and childlessness for me to repent to Him. Once I repented enough, I thought God would free me from this accursed fish. But that was far from the truth.

As we journey with infertility, we are called to be like Jonah. In this period of waiting inside the beast, we are called to surrender. Although we may be scared, worried, or exhausted, we are called to have great confidence in God’s plan for our lives. He will guide us in His hands to the great future He has in store for us.

In Jonah’s case, God led him back to Ninevah – the place where it all started.

For my wife and I, too, God led us back to the beginning of the journey, where He first suggested we may not be called to have children of our own; however, this time, we were at peace trusting in His plan. And lest you think the story ends there, just like Jonah with Ninevah, for us, peace isn’t always smooth sailing.

“When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out. But this greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry.” (Jonah 3:10, 4:1)

Just as Jonah became angry at the conversions of Ninevah, we, too, have pangs of anger or jealousy when we see God’s great gifts shine on others. Is this wrong? No, it is human, as the story of Jonah reminds us. Although we may not fully know God’s plan, we are called to witness to Him. Through Jonah’s begrudging witness alone, over 120,000 Ninevites were saved. God also calls us to witness in other’s joys (even if begrudgingly at times) especially to those who know our trials and tribulations. How many can we similarly save?

As we travel forward with this cross of infertility, let us remember to call to God as Jonah did: “But you brought my life up from the pit. O LORD, my God…. with thankful voice, (I) will sacrifice to you…  (for) deliverance is from the LORD.”

Christian lives in Oklahoma with his amazing wife, Lindsey. They enjoy walking their two dogs and spending time with their family in Oklahoma and Kansas. As a couple, after a long bout with infertility, they have discerned that they are called to live a life-giving, childfree life.