As our struggle to start a family stretched on, I began to feel lonely and isolated. I craved community, but knew no one at first that shared my burden, and was too afraid to speak out myself. With childlessness and its causes such a taboo subject, it was difficult for me to find an empathetic ear to encourage and direct me. While I had no one I could sit down and talk to, I hoped the many childless women in the Bible could help make sense of my situation.
Rachel in Genesis was barren and her desire for children was so consuming she told her husband, “Give me children, or I shall die!” (Gen 30:1). Hannah in 1 Samuel was afflicted not only with childlessness, but also the taunts of her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, to the point that she refused to eat. Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke was a barren old woman, disgraced among the people because of her childlessness.
These women experienced the same feelings I struggle with. I feel like my life is worthless because I am not a mother. I feel depressed and unwilling to care for my broken body. I feel ashamed and guilty that I do not have children.
Ultimately, though, each of these women did bear children. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb” (Gen 30:22). “And the Lord remembered her. And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son” (1 Sam 1:19-20). God heard Elizabeth’s prayers and “after these days [she] conceived” (Luke 1:24). These great women of faith prayed to God to give them children; prayers He heard and answered.
The solidarity I feel with these women tempts me to claim their blessings as my own. I am childless as they were; I feel as they felt; I pray as they prayed. Can’t I reasonably expect that God will answer my prayers for children as He answered theirs? No, I can’t; the Bible does not promise that I will have children.
The stories of these women do not show that God will reward each of His daughters with children. Instead, their stories show that God is sovereign and works all things for His glory. Rachel’s son, Joseph, was the savior of the Hebrew nation. Hannah’s son, Samuel, served as the bridge between God and His people, and anointed the first King of Israel. Elizabeth’s son, John, was the last Old Testament prophet and prepared the way for the Messiah.
…bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
These stories are about something greater than me. Along with the stories of my life and yours, they are all part of the great narrative about our Creator and Lord bringing glory to His great name. God’s creation and His sovereign rule over it bring Him glory.
God is glorified in giving Rachel a child – through Joseph, He provided for His chosen nation. How gracious He is! God is glorified in giving Hannah a child – through Samuel, He tirelessly pursued His people. How faithful He is! God is glorified in giving Elizabeth a child- through John, He pointed us to our Savior. How merciful He is! God is glorified in not giving me a child – through it, He reveals my idolatry of motherhood and need for Jesus. How compassionate He is!
The Lord is glorified by expressing His holy character to His people, which goes hand in hand with Him causing all things to work together “for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). The truth that God will glorify Himself in all our circumstances can bring us great comfort. We can rest not in the expectation that we will get everything we want in this life, but in the fact that God is at work for His glory and our good.