Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Bible and Barrenness -- What does it have to do with Infertility today?

(Today, my best friend from college shares some Biblical insight into the problem of infertility.  If you missed out on her fantastic post of practical tips yesterday, you can read it here.  -Desiré)

When you’re infertile, reading the Bible can be depressing. There are a lot of so called “barren” women who have kids and a lot of promises that God’s people will have kids. So what about those of us who don’t?

I want to share a little about my journey through God’s word while wearing the “lens” of infertility. There are two things in the Bible that make me struggle.  

STRUGGLE #1: BARREN WOMEN HAVING KIDS. Have you ever noticed how many barren women are in the Bible? And they all miraculously have kids. Every single one of the Patriarchs has a “barren” wife: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel. Later we see Manoah and his wife, Elkanah and Hannah, and finally, in the New Testament, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Let me tell you, after two years on the “trying for kids” roller-coaster my heart is raw to these miraculous stories. And at the end of each month my heart weeps as life pours out of me and my hope deflates. It hurts. Barrenness feels like death.

STRUGGLE #2: PROMISES OF CHILDREN. Have you ever noticed how many promises of children are in the Bible? I’ll quote just two:

Psalm 128:3-4 
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine 
   within your house; 
your children will be like olive shoots 
   around your table. 
Behold, thus shall the person be blessed 
   who fears the LORD.

Now, I don’t know if I even want my children to be quite like “olive shoots” (that implies a LARGE number of kids), but really, where’s the love, God? You tell me that the person who serves and fears you will be blessed with children. With the grace of Jesus I strive to be that person, so where’s the blessing? Why haven’t you “visited” me like you visited the barren women of the Bible?

Exodus 23:25-26
You shall serve the LORD your God, and he will bless your bread and your water, and I will take sickness away from among you. None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.

And that Exodus quote was pretty fantastic, wasn’t it? Food for everyone. No sickness. No barrenness. Everyone lives to a ripe old age. Wait . . . that doesn’t sound like reality at all!

That’s because what we have here is a picture of restoration to how things used to be—a new Eden.  When God brought his people out of Egypt it was a mini-new-creation. But because of the messiness and sin of our world the ideal went unrealized. In the Exodus, God may have created a new people for himself, but he had not yet dealt permanently with sin.

This helps me understand these “unanswered” promises. Everywhere you find such fantastic promises in scripture—like Psalm 128—it is God painting a picture of Eden. Of the ideal that was lost because of sin, but that will one day be restored. And in the meantime we get real-life glimpses of it!

Let’s jump back to the barren women of the Bible, because they offer a few of those “real-life glimpses.” What do they all have in common? It’s that when God finally blesses them with a child, it is a VERY IMPORTANT CHILD.

            Sarah - Isaac (Patriarch)
            Rebecca - Esau and Jacob (Patriarch)
            Rachel - Joseph (his wisdom saves the known world from starvation)
            Wife of Manoah - Sampson (delivers the people from the Philistines)
            Hannah - Samuel (prepares the people for David)
            Elizabeth - John the Baptist (prepares the people for Jesus)

Do you see what is going on here? Barrenness—death—is emphasized in all these stories to make it really obvious that God is doing something miraculous in the world. God is overcoming death. These stories give us glimpses of Eden—of new creation.

I believe that Elizabeth is the last story of a barren woman in scripture because her son prepared the way for Jesus. After Elizabeth, there is no more need for “glimpses” because the new creation has come. Jesus has dealt death a fatal blow. With poetic symmetry, God chose to cure the barrenness of the world with a little baby.

Already but not yet. Baby Jesus brought with him new creation. Yet Earth is not Eden. Jesus, in his mercy, is letting sin and messiness persist for a time so that more people might come to know him. So in the meantime, his people live in messiness too.

Do I still weep when I read Psalm 128? Absolutely! Do I hope for the day that God will give me a glimpse of new creation in my own life in the form of a child? Yes! But I wait, knowing that my struggle with infertility is only a small part of something bigger going on in the world. And I draw hope from the stories of the barren women in scripture—not because I expect a physical child—but because they show that God is always on the move with something bigger than we in our pain can see.


You can read Alyssa's post on some practical insight into how to be a good friend to those struggling with fertility here:  Infertility - Uncovering The Elephant in the Room

Alyssa and Desiré were inseparable friends at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Alyssa is now a Bible teacher with her husband at a Seminary in Croatia. If you're interested to learn more about their missionary journey, visit their blog, Building the Balkans.

We linked up at:


  1. Alyssa, have heart. God hears your cries. I only wish that I had your strength of faith during my time of infertility. It took us 5 years to get pregnant, and I had all the tests from the Gyn that said that everything was functioning normally. In late 2003 I had a miscarriage at 16 weeks which changed my life, it made me realize how much I wanted to be a mom. In 2009, I gave birth to a wonderful little boy who is our pride and joy. The time in-between those two events I went through many emotions as I grieved for my lost child, my desire to have a child and bewilderment at why it wouldn't happen when I wanted it to.
    We started trying for baby #2 a year ago and it's the same struggle all over again. I can absolutely relate to the monthly roller-coaster.
    When we were trying for #1, someone gave me that verse from Exodus 23:25-26 and I held onto it with a white knuckled grip.
    I could patronize you with the verse from Jeremiah 29:11; "For I know the plans I have for you"...but we both know that God is in control.
    I will pray for you that you find peace in your journey and that God's will be done.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! May the Lord give you strength to trust as you long for more . . .

  2. It took 9 years for me to conceive our first child. Three years after my first child was born our Sarah joined our family -- only to live 9 mths due to a house fire. It was a hard, hard time. God is near in pain. Sometimes He is far away. But He loves us through our questions. Ron Hamilton's song spoke to me...Oh, rejoice in the Lord, He makes no mistakes. He knoweth the end of the path that I take. And when I am tried and purified, I shall come forth as gold."

    1. Wow. Thanks for sharing Pamela. Your faith encourages me!

  3. What a great look at those biblical passages. I have never looked at it quite that way and sincerely appreciate you taking the time to make us look at them more closely. Isn't it amazing how God orchestrates events? It blows me away each time I see one more puzzle piece of God's work fall into place. It appears that you are learning so much during this time and I am so glad God is doing a good work in you! Sincerely, your sister in Christ.

  4. What wonderful insight. And so much of what you said can be applied in many areas of life, prosperity and health (or lack thereof). Thanks so much. For years I looked at Psalm 113:9 "He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children." and thought, God, what about this? I finally came to an understanding (for me anyway, don't know if it's theologically sound) that I would be "as happy as" a mother of children. Happy in a different way, but still happy. Don't know if I had to reach that point of acceptance before children came into our lives . . . but the end (beginning) of our story was that after 16 years of marriage L was born into our family through adoption and at 18 years of marriage B joined us the same way. Thank you for shedding light on scripture . . . God is truly using you. :) C

    1. YES! This does apply in so many areas. Thanks for pointing that out :). Everyone goes through "barrenness" in life - whether literal or metaphorical, and God uses it to shape, mold, and change us into people more like Jesus. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I really appreciate your perspective! You brought up some points I'd never before considered, and it really encouraged me. I love how God sees to it that all things point to Him.

    Thank you for allowing God to work through your pain in such a beautiful, encouraging way to so many of us. I have loved and valued both of your posts.

    1. Kelly, thanks so much for your encouragement!

  6. Thank you for that perspective. I love the way you shared so honesty.. as a Christian counselor I have seen how we can flipply throw around verses to people's pain and that create more pain.. and I dont believe that is how God longs to see His word used.. He wrote it as a healing balm.. thank you for this insight.. i want to share this!

    1. That is so right, Jenn. God's word is a healing balm, and the longer we soak in it the better it works! It's when we try to slap God's word on like a band aid we can get in trouble . . . thanks for your encouragement!

  7. When I doubt, I remember God is smarter than me...and His plan for me is better than my plan..even though I wish they were the same plans...I try and trust even more...
    I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

    1. Your comment reminds me of one of my favorite country songs, "Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." That is a biblical song :). If God let our plan be his plan we would miss out on so much in life. Keep seeking to trust him more and you will be blessed!

  8. Alyssa, I appreciate this post. I'm a pastor working on a series called Desperate Times. I'm using Barrenness as one of my lesson titles. Unintended, I am preaching that one on Mother's Day. Your post has provided me with a bit of inspiration in considering the surprising number of "barren stories" in Scripture. Blessings on you and yours, my sister!

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