If you’re married, you either do or don’t have children. And that’s a big deal. A very big deal. Some joker has said that, in the media, marriage is all about sex and hardly about children; but in real life it’s the other way around.
Well, it may or may not be.
One of the strangest and slowest pains in marriage is the longing for children who never come. Someone has called it “a strange grief that has no focus for its tears and no object for its love.” When someone dies, there’s a sad day to remember, a sad place to visit, sad possessions to spark memories, sad photos to trigger tears.
But when a child hasn’t been conceived, there’s precisely nothing and nobody. And it just goes on and on in that strange interplay of hope and disappointment, month by month.
One of the really big purposes of marriage in the Bible is children. God blesses humanity with the words, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). To have children and nurture them, to bring them up in the love and fear of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 6:4), to love them unconditionally, to provide them with a secure home, to discipline them (Heb. 12:7–9), to pray for them—it’s all a wonderful privilege.
Even in their most exhausted moments, a young parent can say, “I wouldn’t be without them!” It can also be a desperately sad privilege, if they turn from the God who made and loved them. But even in the sadness, it’s still a privilege. When asked about our family, my wife, Carolyn, and I usually say, “God has entrusted us with three sons and a daughter.” I love that word “entrusted.” Children aren’t given to us; God entrusts them to us for a time. We have the weighty, God-given responsibility to be a father and a mother who love them with something approximating his own love. It’s one of the big ways in which parents serve and reflect the Lord.
Serving God When Children Don’t Come
But what if we try for children and they just don’t come, whether naturally or by adoption? We’re no less married. And we’re no less able to love and serve God. Just as unmarried people can serve God wholeheartedly, so married couples without children can love God passionately and serve him with zeal and sacrifice. And just as there will be different ways in which unmarried men and women serve God, so there may be different outlets for couples without children to love God. Their home can still be an image of Christ the bridegroom’s love for his church, his bride, and the loving submission of his bride to her bridegroom. And it should still be an outward-looking relationship, seeking opportunities to pour out the love of Christ to people all around.
Whether married or unmarried, whether parents or childless, each of us is called to love the God who, in Jesus, has poured out his love on us with every spiritual blessing.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at Crossway.