What the Bible says about God and the infertile woman
The Barren Women of the Bible
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth
Just to name a few...
There are many stories of women in the Bible who struggle with infertility and the pain of not having children.
The Bible not only shares the stories of these "barren women" but also offers hope and comfort during these times.
God indeed is the creator of life and the God of comfort and peace.
In this lens I will share some of their stories from the Bible and other verses that offer hope to those who may also consider themselves "barren" today.
But more important than finding out about the stories of these women is the possibility of finding our own hope in this journey; to be encouraged in whatever stage of our journeys we are at.
Why the word barren?
I don't particularly like the word barren... not that the many other words that denote infertility are any better.
So why the word barren? Partly because it captures some of the emotional content that goes along with infertility - it is a slightly broader definition. But also because it is often recognised as the biblical description of infertility.
However the word barren, has been defined as being an adjective with the following meanings:
1. a. Not producing offspring.
b. Incapable of producing offspring.
2. Lacking vegetation, especially useful vegetation.
3. Unproductive of results or gains; unprofitable: barren efforts. (Eg Synonyms of futile.)
4. Devoid of something specified: writing barren of insight. (Eg Synonyms of empty.)
5. Lacking in liveliness or interest.
and can also be used as a noun:
"A tract of unproductive land, often with a scrubby growth of trees. Often used in the plural."
(Courtesy of http://www.thefreedictionary.com/barren)
Ironically our lives can be barren, devoid of meaning whether or not we have children and equally, there is always hope, that though in some ways I may be "barren" there is the truth that my life can have meaning and be full of life and hope in the midst of this.
the wife of Abraham
Sarah is married to Abraham. She is unable to conceive, although married for many years. Eventually she is not only unable to conceive but beyond childbearing years. (ie she is old as well...)
Ironically she is married to Abraham who has been promised descendants that will number like the stars in the sky and the sand on a beach. A great promise and yet for Abraham and Sarah, the fulfillment seems beyond all reach.
It is at this point that The Lord comes to Abraham once more.
"Then the LORD said, I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son. Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.
11 Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing.
12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought,
After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?
13 Then the LORD said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?'
14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.
And the result??? Not long after this Sarah and Abraham's son Isaac is born, one of the great patriarchs of the Jewish people.
"For nothing is impossible with God" (Luke 1:37)
What does the story of Sarah teach us?
God is faithful to his promises. What he promised to Abraham and Sarah he was faithful in fulfilling. God does not make this exact same promise to each of us but we do learn something else from Sarah's story:
God is the giver of life and he can bring about miracles. We do not know what God may be doing in our lives - even when it seems like he is not doing anything at all.
God can surprise us!
Some good books on infertility from a Christian perspective
A helpful journal complete with quotes and Bible verses and space to journal your thoughts and emotions.
The author tells her story of finding hope within the despair of infertility from a christian perspective
Some great devotions and bible passages for wherever you are in your journey - and with space to write notes and journalling thoughts as you go.
This is one I keep by my bedside and flick through to find a topic that is where I am at, when I need encouragment.
A fictionalised account of the women of Genesis from one of my favourite authors (who normally writes science fiction!). It fills out the snapshot view we have in Genesis and builds the story and emotions of the women to portray them as real and complicated individuals.
"You Lord, are my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in You, and I am helped." Psalm 28:7
Hannah is perhaps best known for her struggle with infertility.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with the verses
"1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none." (1 Samuel 1:1-2)
I always reflect on what could be worse than feeling you have disappointed your husband by not being able to get pregnant? To be one of your husbands two wives, always being compared to her and her abundance of children. Not only was her husbands other wife extremely fertile; it was not a healthy relationship...
"6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?" (1 Samuel 1:6-8)
Yet one thing I love about the image we have of Hannah in the Bible is of her honesty and of her pouring out her pain and heartbreak to God. Rather than become bitter and turn from God she reaches out to him at her time of need and calls on him to answer her prayer.
"10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief." (1 Samuel 1:10-16)
And God answers her prayer. And this answer is Samuel, who becomes a famous priest of God.
What does the story of Hannah teach us?
What do we learn from Hannah?
God wants us to turn to him. We don't have to pretend we are without pain, but can give this to God and know that he can answer our prayers.
"In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD."
In Hannah's words - "I am a woman who is deeply troubled... pouring out my soul to the LORD... out of my great anguish and grief." (1 Samuel 1:10-16)
There is no pretense that she is not hurting, not blindly trusting God but really wrestling with the pain of infertility.
I kmow that I too can take my pain to the creator of the universe and pour out my soul to him.
Finding hope in a God who weeps with us
Joni Eareckson Tada, having spent more than thirty years in a wheelchair brings honesty and realness to the topic of suffering and why God allows such pain in our lives.
My favourite christian resources and infertility support
These are two of my favourite websites that I have found to be very worthwhile in my journey so far.
- Hannah's Prayer Ministries
Hannah's Prayer is a Christian ministry offering resources and support through online forums for infertility and pregnancy loss. I have found them to be a wonderful supportive resource.
- Sarahs-laughter Ministry
Another wonderful website offering resources and support for infertility, pregnancy loss and child loss. Offers prayer partnership and you can also subscribe to their daily email to receive an inspirational and supportive message each day.
- Elizabeth Ministry International Home Page
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
We do not walk alone...
Most importantly the Bible tells us that Jesus calls us to himself. We do not walk alone but God himself walks with us in our pain.
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
One way of doing this is by praying and sharing our pain with Jesus.
Below is a Celtic Prayer called "Coping with infertility" and is inspired by the Christian Celtic tradition.
Gracious God, we long for a child and find our hearts shaved of hope
as month after month we go childless.
The love we have to give and share with a child fills us to the brim,
but that love seems thwarted when our longing is not fulfilled.
Look with tenderness on us, O God.
Let the disappointment that hangs over us be lifted by the joy of your touch.
Give us the patience that will re-build hope
as we wait for the fullness of our love in the high calling of parenthood.
We ask this for the sake of your love. Amen
Celtic Prayer (Copyright Â©1999-2008 explorefaith.org)
Image courtesy of Freefoto.com
These books don't try to pretend that difficult things don't happen but seek to try and engage with God through the sorrows and storms of life.
Does the Bible have any words for us today?
Often we think that the Bible has nothing to say to us regarding issues such as infertility...
Even worse is the impression we do get: God opens the womb of the barren woman (and our question becomes, "then why not me too!") and the focus on the family that we often receive in Christian churches.
Often infertility can make us feel we just don't fit. Everyone else has kids and as much as we want to fit with these expectations it is beyond our control.
I was reminded recently that one of the prayers we can pray at these times is to call out to God with the frustration and pain that this is not how it was meant to be. This is not how God created the world to be. This is not how parenthood was to start.
And by asking God to change this reality and to heal us, to give us children, is not a selfish request but a calling for God to restore his creation, our world, and to bring all things under Christ and to bring peace to this place, beginning in our life.
God does not offer easy solutions and instant answers to prayer. What we do find in the Bible is words of encouragement. We are reminded of who God is, what he can do, that he does care and that we matter to him.
Below are some words that I have found comfort in at different times. I hope they are helpful for you too.
Some verses of hope from the Bible
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
These verses remind me of who God is (creator of all things ) and his character (faithful, compassionate). They remind me I may not always understand why God does or does not do things, but I can know I am not alone; that the God of the universe walks with me, he has not forgotten nor forsaken me and my hope is in him.
New Testament verses offering hope
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
1 John 3:1
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
Romans 8:35 & 37
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
What is it that is important? - Knowing Christ. It can be all too easy to get so caught up with how I am feeling that I forget the joy of knowing Christ - it is easy to lose this focus!
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In a situation where we may feel completely powerless, God offers us an option - we can bring this anxiety, worry and heartache to him in prayer. We are told to present our requests to him.
6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
16May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Your story... is unique and yours alone. It may have elements of those of Hannah, or Sarah or other women of the Bible. It will have the shared emotions of anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, jealousy, grief... shared by others walking similar paths.
But it is your story and no one can know exactly what you are feeling.
What we learn from these barren women of the Bible is that God is part of this story, as difficult as the journey may be. It may be a long journey or a short one, perhaps with many twists and turns, but we know that God walks with us and waits with us in our pain.
Helpful books to check out
What does God want you to hear today?
As I reflect on God and who he is, I have been pondering what he would want to say to me as I struggle with infertility and my unanswered prayers. What might God be saying to me or to you today???
- I love you. You are my beloved child. You are mine
- You do not walk alone - I am with you always.
- I hear your prayers and I cry with you.
- Trust in me, know that I too want what is best for you.
Other Lenses I have made exploring some of these themes
- Surviving IVF - the emotional side
IVF and other Assisted Reproduction Technologies are a difficult and exhausting process. this lens explores ways to look after yourself and survive this crazy journey...
- My journey with God through infertility
This has been an opportunity for me to explore my own thoughts and emotional responses through the journey of infertility in regards to how I engage with this as a Christian woman.
Christian articles about infertility
- The Empty Crib | Today's Christian Woman | Your Life. Your Faith. Your World.
An article in "Today's Christian Woman" Online Magazine about infertility
- Chapter 12 : Learning to Trust God Through Infertility | Cindy Lewis Dake
- Article about infertility "Less of a Woman?"
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