Infertility is a difficult road to walk and we should walk beside those in this struggle; in Christ, no one is truly without family.
Walking Through Infertility
By Matthew Arbo
Married or single, orphaned or adopted, fertile or infertile, close or estranged: the Christian always has a family. To believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ is to belong. As his child, alongside brothers and sisters, here we learn participation in God’s mission. We find ourselves here, not somewhere else, and now, not some other time. We are to discern the terms and circumstances of our lives, to interpret them and to bear witness to the good news in Jesus Christ.
“Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him,” says Paul. “This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). Such strong language! A rule for all the churches? It is clear from the text Paul means exactly what he says. He gives two instructive examples: the circumcised and the bondservant. In the case of the former, if circumcised, do not seek to remove marks of circumcision, and if uncircumcised, do not seek circumcision. For the latter, if a bondservant, do not seek to be free unless you can realistically obtain freedom, and conversely, if free, do not seek to become enslaved.
I say these are instructive because “circumcision” and “bondservice” designate two of the most basic social identifiers of the ancient world. A son born into the house of Israel is circumcised as a sign of the covenant. Circumcision=Jew. Tribe and ethnicity represent basic social identifiers. The same goes for bondservice, which functions as an indicator of socio-economic status. Even in the modern world it is difficult to locate two more basic identities than nationality and occupation.
The context for Paul’s rule is marriage and singleness, but I believe the principle applies also to couples with and without children. The family is differently constituted and thus is differently called. Different challenges and opportunities present themselves, yet each has its own definite task. Living and proclaiming the gospel is not dependent upon having children of one’s own. The mission is the same. Only the conditions for carrying out that mission differ, in one case single and the other married, in one case with children and the other without. This would not have been feasible under the old covenant because the promise was in some sense contingent on Israel’s continued propagation. Under the new covenant, however, spiritual rebirth rather than natural birth brings us into God’s family.
This fact of having been adopted into God’s family has direct application to how we think of our own families. Family is calling. And just as singleness or marriage contributes to our respective callings, so too does parenting and childlessness. Only God knows the exact reasons for these respective callings. None of them are “easy.” Yet the terms of discipleship are such that we give ourselves to God—all of ourselves—and receive from him what we need to live and to serve.
This doesn’t mean our pain and suffering will be less acute. We expect hardships because God tells us in his Word that we should expect hardships. James goes so far as to say we should “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). This text is easier to read than apply, admittedly; yet all who follow Christ will suffer, some in one way and some in another.
Some Christians describe themselves as “suffering” from infertility or childlessness. They describe it that way perhaps because of the fear it induces, the joys it leaves unsavored or the wounds it leaves unmended. Couples who want to have children, and who have not been able to do so, hurt. That hurt is often compounded by the fact that it isn’t shared. Infertile couples often keep their infertility private, to shield themselves from the gaze and judgment of others. But it is precisely at this point, in the midst of fear, embarrassment, anxiety or shame, that couples should understand themselves as part of a family that listens, cares and consoles. If that is you, dear reader, please know that you are not alone. You are part of a family. Acknowledging your fears and worries, speaking your experience aloud to those you trust, is part of what being a family is all about. So, ask yourself, are you allowing your brothers and sisters in Christ to be family to you?
INFERTILITY AND THE CHURCH
Infertility is an ecclesial experience. Membership in Christ implies mission with Christ. As his redeemed we’re in this together. The mutuality and reciprocity that define the church apply to both fertile and infertile alike. Infertile couples should not, and indeed cannot, fully shoulder the burdens of their experience. They need the support of others.
Abide in me, and I in you, instructs Jesus to his disciples. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He goes on to explain that to abide in him is also to abide in his love. He loves his disciples. Then he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (15:12). God intends his church to be a community of love. He commissions his witnesses to be extensions of his love. To belong to Christ’s body is to participate in his love. This body is comprised of all types, no one more or less needed than others. The Greek term the church has used to refer to its own life together is koinonia—Christian fellowship, sharing and communication. Togetherness! Because Christ is for us, we are inescapably and by definition for one another.
For all of these reasons it should be clear that infertile couples need the church, and the church needs infertile couples. The ability or inability to have children is not irrelevant to the mission couples have in the church, but neither is procreative capacity all-decisive. The respective experiences have their own challenges and possibilities, their own shape. The ecclesial purpose for each couple, however, remains the same: to love God, love one another and make known the gospel. Any ability or inability to have children must be interpreted in light of the mission we’re given to embody and advance. We all must preach the gospel to ourselves, and in doing so learn anew how to give and receive collaboratively with our brothers and sisters, united in a work that transcends and outlasts us all.
Excerpted from Walking through Infertility: Biblical, Theological, and Moral Counsel for Those Who Are Struggling by Matthew Arbo, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, Crossway.org.