We have braved our way through Mothers and Fathers Days now, each with our own measure of sadness and grief, and surprising joy. "Is this day hard for you?" I ask my husband yesterday. We know the little lives we've lost made us parents for a week, two, three, but neither of us stood with the others on our respective days in church when the mothers are honored and the fathers applauded. "Is it hard for you?" I ask him. And he says no, not now, because we have been given the gift of lack, this is what we've been calling it recently: the gift of emptiness.
I remember, with startling clarity, the moment I decided to never put my name on an Internet dating site, to not whittle my time down crafting the perfect profile, hoping some man would take a fancy and pick me. I decided, instead, to look at the gift of emptiness God had given me in my singleness, and do my best to be faithful with it in my local church. I knew this was an unpopular opinion. I knew the odds weren't in my favor. I knew it would take a miracle for me to find marriage. But then, one day, there he was, standing in the foyer, meeting me. A non-event in both of our minds, no idea that four months later we'd meet again, become friends, and three months after that we'd pledge our lives to one another. He was just serving our church. I was just trying to be faithful. Living quiet lives. Working with what was in our hands—even if it seemed to the world to be emptiness.
Being unable to have children is a bit like this. Well-meaning strangers ask when we plan to start a family. Well-intentioned folks probe for a diagnosis. Well-loving friends mostly fear asking, because, well, it's hard to scratch a surface not knowing what's beneath it.
Lack is strange in the world in which we live. We are all trying so desperately to fill, fill, fill, and when we can't fill it with the thing we want, we try to get another thing to stave off the pain. Boyfriends, babies, big-screen tvs, better phones—none of us are immune from the fill. Emptiness points to insufficiency and none of us can bear that for long. Even the ones who love most don't want to broach the subject of what emptiness might mean.
Nate had a conversation with a mutual friend of ours recently and when he recounted it to me, I remembered their situation, similar to ours in many ways: married later, no children for years, faithfully serving the church and the nations, and then, one day, the gift of a baby, given to them by an acquaintance, adopted, and now raised as their very own. It reminded me of my choice to, as long as I remained single, be faithful with that time, and if God brought a husband, it would be through my church family. This comforting reminder has buoyed our childlessness in recent weeks and months. We feel a growing excitement in the gift of this lack—because we know God doesn't give empty gifts, even if the box seems empty to the rest of the world.
God is doing something in this lack. He's showing us something of himself. He's refining and proving and conforming and comforting. He has not withheld from us anything he has promised to give us. The desire to have children and be a parent is no more a promise that it will happen, than the desire to be married means God will provide a spouse. God has promises galore in his Word and not one of them will return void, but if we begin to live as though the things we desire have been promised to us when they have not, we will begin to live within a constant funeral of our idol. No one wants to say marriage or children can become idols, or even the desire for them can be, but if the getting of something God has not promised to us in Scripture begins to steal our joy and diffuse our hope in him, it is an idol.
I did not want my pursuit of marriage to become like a carrot in front of me, shifting my life and career and home and hopes constantly with marriage as the goal. I made that mistake more times than I know, but I did not want the whole of my singleness to be marked by the goal of marriage. And now, in childlessness, I do not want the whole of my life to be centered around the getting of that which has not been promised. Children are a blessing, so is marriage, but they are not better than faithfulness and they are not better than the King of glory.
I know many of you are unmarried and many of you are unable to have children, and there is the two-fold hurt of being unmarried, with the barrenness that comes along with it, but I want to stand beside you in that hurt, that lack, and say with you: this is not empty, though it feels as if it is. God is doing something in this lack. He's doing something with this void. He's showing himself to be better than a spouse, better than children, better than security, and better than what our culture perceives as normal. He is the gift within the gift of lack.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:16-17