We invite you to join the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition at a special upcoming event, “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop,” taking place April 3 to 4 in Memphis, Tennessee. Register today: MLK50conference.com.
Five years ago, my wife took me out to a nice steak restaurant for a meal we couldn’t afford to celebrate my 25th birthday. We reminisced about the highlights of my first 25 years, and then we began to dream about what the next quarter-century might hold.
My wife said she wanted to start having children. But her desire was more specific: she wanted to adopt internationally. One of the prerequisites for international adoption was you had to be older than, you guessed it, 25.
She looked at me nervously, knowing the gravity of the request. I smiled and shared with her how God had been growing my passion for our church’s partnership with an orphanage in Uganda. I told her we should pray for 40 days about whether or not to pursue adoption. But it turned out I couldn’t wait 40 days. The next day I printed off the paperwork and had it ready for us to fill out when she got home.
We recently marked five years since we began the adoption process. With Uganda’s shifting adoption laws, we went from a slowdown to being completely shut out, just as we were nearing the “front of the line.” We had peace that this was God’s plan and, with many of our friends pregnant, we decided to try to grow our family through biological children.
But our excitement about trying to conceive eventually turned into confusion about why we weren’t succeeding. After a year and a half of trying, we had another signification conversation, but it lacked the optimism of our initial adoption discussion. Lauren shared the medical test results: it would be difficult for us to have biological children.
Unfulfilled Desire for Children
Infertile. Barren. Unable to conceive children. The reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat there in the restaurant booth as my stomach dropped to the floor. Why would this happen to us? What did we do to cause this? What’s the solution?
It’s puzzling to mourn the loss of something that doesn’t happen. My grandmother went to be with the Lord last year, and people can understand mourning that loss. But to grieve the loss of an unrealized future is different. I became gripped by fear of the unknown. In an instant, my dreams for my family and my desire for children were in jeopardy.
The majority of our friends’ desire for children has been fulfilled. We felt alone. Isolated. Only later would we learn that one in five couples reports experiencing a season of infertility. The actual numbers are likely higher.
Couples we know experienced a season of infertility and yet now have beautiful children. We cling to these stories as a source of inspiration. But as we began sharing our experience, we realized we didn’t know couples who shared their journey in the midst of infertility. Moreover, many people assumed we were an outlier, as if infertility affected only a few. There is an unspoken shame, a fear of voicing the cold reality of barrenness. We prayerfully discussed what God would have us do. Ultimately, we chose to share our journey in the hopes of reassuring others walking the same path: You are not alone.
Danger of of Misplaced Hope
We knew we were opening ourselves up to potential hurt from well-intended comments from friends, family, and others. I deeply appreciate every person who bravely offers words of consolation and encouragement. However, I notice myself and others pointing to a hope in God’s power to provide rather than in God’s presence to satisfy. And often, God does provide—most couples’ desire for children will be fulfilled by God. It’s likely we will be blessed to conceive and/or adopt children.
But we can have a confidence in God that doesn’t depend on him giving us children. Our ultimate hope is that God is better than children. We don’t need children to live a full, happy, purpose-filled life in service to the King of kings. Lauren and I must’ve said to each other a hundred times, “We would much rather have a life without children than a life without Jesus.” His plan for us is best, even if it doesn’t include the full house we envision.
We continue to pray God will give us kids. Yet we know we have a better hope—hope in God and a rock-solid certainty that whatever the outcome, he is good. He isn’t good because of the good he does, but because of who he is. As Psalm 107:1 declares, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.”
Find Contentment in God
When I see friends and family in the midst of longing or pain, I now choose my words more carefully. While I want their suffering to be relieved and their longings to be met, that’s not where my hope for them should lie. I ought to boldly ask God to fulfill their desires, while saying like Jesus in Gethsemane, “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done.”
Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For us, this may mean Lauren and I never get to hold our own children. We may never experience a baby shower with our closest friends and family or rush to the hospital for delivery. We may miss out on sleepless nights and the sting of a teenager’s embarrassment. We may grow old with no one to come visit us at Christmas and die without ever giving away our daughter or giving marriage advice to our son. Our desire for children might always be unfulfilled. But that plan is still good. How do I know? Because we have a good Father in heaven, who gives us each day our daily bread.
He is good. And he does good. Even when it’s not the good we desire.