There are moments when we see a truth about our circumstances with startling clarity. Sometimes the moment shakes us so deeply that we remember the truth from then on.

My moment happened in 2012.

I assumed I’d be married sometime in my 20s, like most of my friends. One by one, two by two, I watched almost all of them marry, and I crossed over the threshold of 30 wondering what horrific thing must be wrong with me. With every year that passed, the feeling of being defective grew. Over time I found more purpose in my singleness, exponentially so, but simultaneously I felt more and more like I’d been overlooked. On the outside, I was purposeful and confident; on the inside, I was confused. 

My startling moment of clarity hit me when I met some friends struggling with infertility. As obvious as it may seem now, I hadn’t considered the similarities of our struggles. We were all waiting for good things we hadn’t been promised. We had to learn to be grateful for the strange gift of lack, when God doesn’t give us the good things we want, but we learn to trust his goodness regardless. 

The Lord did have marriage for me eventually in my mid-30s, but after two miscarriages in the first five months of our marriage, we’ve been unable to conceive again. The lessons I learned in my singleness translate to infertility in a few ways.

1. Marriage wasn’t promised to me, as much as I wanted it and believed I was made for it.

Learning this lesson makes it infinitely easier to remember children aren’t promised to me, as much as I might want them and believe I am made for them. If I believe a simple desire for a thing guarantees I will get it, I have made that thing an idol, something that takes the place of God. It can’t be the thing, or the desire for the thing, that commands my worship.

If I believe a simple desire for a thing guarantees I will get it, I’ve made that thing an idol

2. My purpose couldn’t be put on hold until I was married.

In the same way, I have to learn I’m not less than, being withheld from, incomplete, or unable to learn what God has for me in barrenness. God will teach me patience and hope—and his sufficiency and faithfulness—just as thoroughly as he has taught empty nesters and will teach moms of young kids. He withholds nothing good from me—not marriage, not children, and not lessons I think are limited to those who have them.

3. I would always feel a little incomplete, and this isn’t a bad thing.

So too in barrenness. The gift is the lack. The feeling of incompleteness is a great gift to the Christian because it reminds us we’re not yet home; we’re not face to face with Jesus. Pray that in the areas you feel the ache of emptiness, you would long more for the day of Jesus.

4. My family isn’t a husband or children but the local church.

Our world and church culture is so built around the nuclear family that this was a difficult one to learn. In my singleness I had to be purposeful to find sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children within the local church. In barrenness it’s the same. My family isn’t limited to blood and DNA; it’s the body of Christ.

My family isn’t limited to blood and DNA; it’s the body of Christ.

5. My hope isn’t in a person to be my best friend, closest confidant, and object of my affection.

In barrenness I have to learn that I may never have children to dress, to teach, to feed, to nourish, to love, to discipline, and to release. It teaches me to look up from me, and see the many.

I’m convinced, every single day, that my years of singleness were preparing me for these years of infertility. I don’t know when or how or if we’ll have children. But I do know I don’t feel wasted, overlooked, afraid, ignored, or shortchanged by God. And I know for certain I don’t feel that way because I entered into the suffering of my barren friends during my singleness and learned to see we’re all waiting for something, every one of us.

I’m convinced, every single day, that my years of singleness were preparing me for these years of infertility.

If your table is empty because you’re unmarried or because God has withheld children from you or because your children are grown and away, whom might he want to fill those chairs with? What is he teaching you about his character? What various sorts of trials is he asking you to enter into with your brothers and sisters, even if they’re not the same as yours? How has he prepared you in the past for the struggle you now face?