Did you know that one of out of eight couples in the US has trouble either getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy? One out of eight. The numbers are even bigger when you consider those struggling with it throughout the world.
While you are preaching this Sunday, count the families in your congregation. For every eight couples present, there’s a very good chance that one of them is either infertile or has miscarried. It is possible that your church has numerous couples who have been walking through infertility with barely speaking a word about it.
We have come so far in our history as souls walking on this Earth, yet, we still do not talk about infertility; especially in the church setting. I’ve always wondered why. Is it because it involves sex? Or, maybe it’s just awkward? Could it be that advice is hard to give and take when dealing with infertility? I suspect it might be all of these things.
I reached out once to a big national church – like huge – with a very well-known and eloquent Pastor. I asked them, “What are you doing for people in your congregation who are struggling with infertility?” They told me that they refer couples/singles who are infertile to their orphan care ministry. Okay. That is fine but adoption is a completely different experience than infertility. Sure, they touch each other but the experiences as whole both require full attention. They both involve lots of tears, courage, and resilience, but, orphan care, while wonderful, does not equate caring for the infertile.
Here’s the ugly truth, though. Infertility impacts spirituality. Let me repeat.
INFERTILITY IMPACTS SPIRITUALITY.
Case in point: Several years ago, a Pastor’s wife emailed me via this blog and poured her heart out to me. She was angry at God for not answering her prayers for pregnancy. She was confused and felt she could not say anything out loud due to being the Pastor’s wife. Instead of turning to those within her church who know her and love her, she sought me, a complete stranger who just happens to “get it” when it comes to infertility. I did my best to encourage her and let her know that she is free to vent to me via email anytime she needed to. However, this is not how it should be. Infertility should not be a secret that is kept away for fear of showing to others that none of us are spiritual warriors all of the time.
Hey, Pastors. It’s time the church breaks open the seal of secrecy when it comes to infertility.
I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church. The Pastor and other members of the church were warm, kind and spiritually mature (at least, that is what I thought of them). However, after my hysterectomy in 1983 (age 11), I do not recall one single person with “authority” in the church reaching out to me about what had just happened. While they provided some support to my parents, they did not really discuss at all the impact of infertility on my life and where God was in all of it. My mom recalls that “no one asked” when referring to how she dealt with it. Instead, our family heard lots of “She can always adopt” and “God must have a reason for this”.
I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. While I know now that adoption was the plan for my life and I absolutely adore my children, these types of comments from other Christians did not comfort, nor did they draw me closer to the Lord. If a wife were to lose her husband, would the church say, “She can always remarry”? I don’t think so.
Take a look at the story of Hannah:
1 Samuel 1-15
There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LordAlmighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah, he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”
Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying,
“Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk, and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”
“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Hannah was in anguish. She was provoked until she wept. Yet, she was misunderstood. Her pain was not clear until she bravely told of her grief.
Hey, Pastors. There are a lot of Hannah’s in your congregation.
You may not know it. You may even be surprised by who they are, but they are there. They attend week after week. They are some of your most dedicated volunteers, teach Sunday school classes and host small groups, pray for you and everyone else, and they are in pain.
Growing up with barrenness, I understand all too well that it can be a stinging arrow heading right into one’s heart. It does not invite feelings of thankfulness. It certainly does not create a sense of wholeness; physically or spiritually. If the church is responsible for growing spiritual beings and encouraging the faithful, why does it do a good job at ignoring the infertile? Scripture talks about it, so why doesn’t the modern-day church?
Hey, Pastors. This is my challenge for you. Learn about infertility. Read my blog and the multitude of other blogs whose writers whisper their tears via the written word. Talk to doctors who work with infertile couples. Read and re-read the stories of barrenness in the Bible, and then, create an open dialog so that the Hannah’s (and spouses) in YOUR church can feel like they are not forgotten children of the Lord and that their church home is a soft spot to land in the midst of their struggle.
Hey, Pastors. It’s Time the Church Talks about Infertility.