As salvation-oriented people, we try to think about the long, long – really long – game. In a homily I heard recently, a priest referred to this as the eschatological view. Please do as I did and ask the internet to define eschatological. It’s a beautiful word.
The struggle to build your family, your lineage, and your genealogy demands a perspective that is beyond the here and now. Just because conception didn’t occur during this cycle doesn’t mean it won’t occur in the next cycle or three or ten cycles from now. We all know this; but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. However, dear waiting one, in this struggle lies a treasure beyond all telling.
Think of all the women (and men!) in the Bible who learned to wait and grew to know and love God’s long view while they waited. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Elkannah and Hannah, Anne and Joachim, Elizabeth and Zechariah. It’s quite the epic list of big Bible names, and quite the epic circumstances! Let’s recount a few of them.
Abraham and Sarah
God promised Abraham something every man would love to have: to be the patriarch of a great nation – wow! How confused and even hurt he must have felt when Sarah was barren (Genesis 11:30). How awful those years must have been leading up to the point when Sarah told Abraham to father a child with another woman. Was Sarah very bitter when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, or did she swallow her grief and try to be glad that her husband had an heir? Through her suffering, or maybe because of her suffering, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son, Isaac.
Isaac and Rebekah
Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and his wife Rebekah played an essential role in salvation history. And like mom and dad, they also struggled to conceive. It makes you wonder if there was something in the water or in their epigenetics, eh? The Bible states that Isaac reacted differently to infertility than Abraham had; he pleaded to God for his wife (Gen 25:21). This made all the difference. That’s not to say that Abraham was wrong or selfish; but by turning his laments and quest of a promised heir into an act of love for someone else (Rebekah), Isaac advanced the salvation story. He made progress toward man’s union with God. By taking the focus off himself, Isaac begot Jacob.
Jacob and Rachel
What about Jacob and Rachel? Jacob was one of the sons (twin sons!) born to Isaac and Rebekah after about twenty (yes, twenty!) years of waiting. How long have you been trying? You may be thinking that in Biblical times, things like years, health, and lifespans weren’t the same as our own; however, two decades is still a long time to be watching everyone else have babies. Again, there’s the generational element: Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, along with their wives and servants shared a common burden (or perhaps a common gift) from God which served to bring to life salvation’s story. Sometimes we forget that the struggles we have are timeless (and this makes sense because God’s love for us is timeless).
Jacob and Rachel’s story reads like a wacky soap opera. They were “love at first sight” types but Jacob had to work for Rachel’s father for seven years before he finally gave Jacob permission to marry her (romantic, right?). Then, on their wedding night, Rachel was switched for her sister Leah (I know, what??? How??? It’s super weird, but it happened). Poor Jacob. Poor Rachel, too – she was also madly in love.
When the two finally wed, Jacob had to serve Rachel and Leah’s father for another seven years. Jacob also had to provide for both women because of the social customs of the times. On top of all that, Leah bore Jacob four sons while Rachel, his true love, remained childless for many years. Rachel desperately wanted to have Jacob’s children. Leah just wanted to be loved as much as her sister. What a complicated marriage triangle! Apparently, the two wives took their frustration, anger, and sadness out on their servants, making it a very tense household. You might be thinking, why is this part of salvation’s story? Their story shows us what we need to focus on in times of struggle.
As with the women who came before and after her, Rachel brought her pain to God and deepened her prayer life. While Leah let anger and sadness dominate her choices, Rachel, though she experienced the same emotions, chose the better part. She checked her faith in God, resolved to keep trusting Him and – guess what? God kept His promise to Rachel and Jacob and gave them their son, Joseph (yes, that Joseph – the amazing dream interpreter who was left for dead by his brothers only to make it to Egypt and Pharoah’s court…yes, indeed. God has great plans for those who know how to wait).
God had a very special place in His Sacred Heart for these couples who were waiting to be blessed. If you want more inspiration, please, dive into the stories of the other sub-fertile couples who maintained their fixation on their God, our God, your God, who did not abandon them, us, or you!
Do you believe that God has a very special plan for you and your spouse as you endure your wait faithfully?
In my work with couples facing subfertility, I am thankful for the opportunity to be a listener to them in their time of sorrow. I am also thankful to be able to be part of a solution that was not available to our Biblical predecessors: whereas fertility challenges for millennia have been cloaked in mystery, today we have the ability –- through Restorative Reproductive Medicine — largely to understand and offer treatments. Though this approach has not yet been embraced by conventional medicine, which relies largely on assisted reproductive technology such as IVF, it is increasingly available.
Facing subfertility takes courage.
God knows this better than any of us and He wants us to stay centered in Him, with Him, and to get through the struggle with a greater love for Him.
Whether or not you’ve reached the point in your journey where you’ve mastered total surrender to His Will, that’s what He is calling us all to amid the grueling, painful wait. Perhaps precisely because of the pain.
Fertility struggles are likened to those of a person experiencing cancer – except they are not as widely discussed or medically researched. The key is to realize He gave you this struggle for a reason. It’s not about hopes for a baby or a cure. It’s about hope in God, Heaven, and Him alone as the ultimate source of happiness.
Can you offer your struggle to Him and ask Him who cares so much for you to help you trust in His plans for you, to let go, and to seek Him as much as He is seeking you?
Emily Kennedy is fertility educator and health coach at Reply Ob/Gyn & Fertility, which specializes in treatment for those facing infertility/subfertility and recurrent miscarriage.