For the second time in less than 24 hours, I came home, shut the door behind me, and cried.
A quick pass down the rice and bean aisle at the grocery store had unraveled me. I had run into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and over the course of our chatter she casually mentioned that she was pregnant. Her second. She beamed.
I tried to ignore the familiar wrench in the pit of my stomach. You know that feeling, when you just want to throw that can of pintos you’re holding at the heavens, toward God, screaming, “What are you doing?!” at the top of your lungs? Well. Only because I knew what society dictated in this situation (and in public) did I manage to refrain from throwing beans at the ceiling.
Instead, I conjured up a smile and offered my congratulations. I blathered and babbled about her little boy having a brother or sister to play with. I asked about her due date. And, simultaneously, I mentally hurled my question—“What are you doing?!”—at the Creator of the universe.
The question had been lurking in the back of my mind since the previous evening, when a different friend had shared her happy news with me after church. Her third. Again, I had smiled. I had congratulated. I had babbled. I had also briefly wondered whether the song lyrics I had just sung—“There is no one else for me, none but Jesus”—were meant to be taken literally in my case. And then I had gone home and cried.
It’s true. I cry when my friends tell me they’re pregnant. Never in front of them, and never because I begrudge them their joy. I love my friends. My earnest prayer is that their little ones will grow up to love Jesus. But there’s a knot of pain somewhere deep in my gut that tightens in these situations.
I’m 35 years old, I’ve never been married, and I’m childless. Childless. Sometimes I feel it only as a mild ache that can be brushed aside, but at other times it flares with an intensity that threatens to undo me. I don’t dwell on it, I don’t wallow in it, I do not try to explain it to many people. But it is constant, nonetheless.
In this hurt I feel a unique connection to my married friends who have struggled with infertility. They understand, as one friend put it, the “open-ended” nature of this sort of pain. They recognize better than most that I am a woman who longs to be a mother just as much as any wife might, and they empathize with the frustration that stems from my unfulfilled desire, in a way that validates that desire rather than ignoring or condemning it.
Unrealized desire causes pain. We understand this. We all live it, every day. Harder to accept, though, is the fact that as much as such open-ended pain hurts, it’s part of what it means to be human. Right? Waiting? Wanting more than this life has to offer? Didn’t the apostle Paul himself say it?
“For who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24-25)
In my mind’s eye, I can easily “see” what my life might look like with a husband, three toddling children at my side, a baby in my arms. I think it looks pretty great, in fact. I wouldn’t say no if God suddenly handed this life to me on a silver platter. But my perspective is limited, and I must keep remembering that God can see infinitely more. I need to train myself to hope for the things that I’d never in a million years be able to imagine for myself—eternal things. God has so often proven his faithfulness in doing “far more abundantly beyond all that [I could] ask or think,” and his plan is always good.
In the meantime—because we do live in the meantime moments—does knowing these truths make the pain less painful? Not really. Not for me, at least. But I’m learning that the more open-ended the pain, the more open-ended the hope. The greater the expectation. God will bring about a result that glorifies himself, and I can cooperate with him as he accomplishes that result.
“What are you doing?!”
As it turns out, maybe my knee-jerk question in the bean aisle was not exactly the wrong question. At the very least, it’s an age-old query with an answer just as ancient. It could be (couldn’t it?) that God is answering me the way he answered the prophet Habakkuk, thousands of years ago, when Habakkuk couldn’t make sense of his world, either. “Observe!” God said. “Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—You would not believe if you were told.”
I look forward to being astonished.
Do you struggle with the ache of childlessness?
Photo credit: Stephen Brace