A friend sent me a link to an old sermon in which the pastor preached a strong and stalwart message about women being saved through childbearing (II Timothy 2:15), and I turned it off five minutes before its conclusion. “Why did you send it to me?” I asked my friend because we have been having ongoing conversations about these subjects and my soul balks at the customary consolation prizes of womanhood. For one who grew up hearing a woman’s highest calling was to be a wife and a mother, yet finds herself as single as the day she came squalling into the world, a future swaddled in babies sounds bleak.
This is my call? To bear what I cannot bear? To hold up a bargain as impossible as Sarah’s to her husband. As impossible as God’s to Abraham? This womb is dead, or feels dead. Oh, I have plenty of years until it is pronounced medically dead, but the hope has died. It has died seventy times over and dies each day a little more.
It is 2013 and most of my good-church-girl friends married a decade ago. They are all declaring the babes in their wombs, “The last!” and I barely hope for a first. To them two or three is enough, the curse lasts far beyond pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16) and they have seen enough of life to know promises about babies on schedules or Sunday-School attendance stars will not guarantee the safe arrival of their little ones to spiritual-adulthood. So it appears neither of us are saved through childbearing after all. We both limp with one hand held to God our helper and one hand anchored to earth our friend. Where is our salvation?
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In an early morning class last week we read Romans 4 and I wept tears in the second row. I felt them coming on again in this coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon. A thorough study of Romans is not for the faint of heart, and not for those who feel they have somehow escaped the curse by either perfect children or singleness.
The end of Romans 4 is about Abraham’s body, his circumcision of flesh, and calling into existence things that do not exist: his seed. God, who is the only author of life and the only bider of time, has made a promise that even with hope against hope still seems impossible. A father of many nations? A boy from these loins? From the barrenness of Sarah’s womb? If pain in childbirth was the curse on all daughters of Eve, it would seem Sarah’s only curse was she would never feel the twisting beautiful pain of birthing anything.
Anything but hope.
My friend was also in class that morning and I sent a text to him: “This is it!” I wrote. “Maybe this is part of how we are saved through childbearing!”
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Even if we never birth a child, we birth hope. We are built to birth hope. It lies restless in our womb, expectant in our hearts, and unlimited in its gestation. We are crafted to see the future, to look at what is not and believe God will still do what He said He would do. We are made to birth hope into impossibilities. I think about my sisters, those whose deepest desires are to take broken places and make them whole; who have been hurt, neglected, broken, and cast away, and who still come back strong and desperate to see wholeness birthed in dark places.
I can’t stop thinking about it all week. And I think about it when I wake early a few mornings ago, feeling the familiar ache of the barrenness accompanying singleness.
Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Faith in the hope against hope God was who He said He was and would do what He said He would do. Sarah, our barren sister, laughed at the promise and so Laughter was given to her for the rest of her days, a reminder that sometimes the only pain in childbirth we experience is 80 years without childbirth. A reminder that God is a God who saves and He saves by bringing life from dead things, hope from hopelessness.
Penned sometime this past spring.