There are moments in our lives when we have startling clarity about a painful memory or circumstance in which we find ourselves. It is at times only a moment, and other times it shakes us so deeply we know we'll remember it from then on. There was a moment like this for me in 2012.
I, like most of my friends, assumed I'd be married sometime in my twenties, like most of my friends. One by one, two by two, I watched almost all of them marry, and I crossed over the threshold of thirty wondering what horrific thing must be wrong with me. Each year that passed then, the growing feeling of being defective grew. I found more purpose in my singleness, exponentially so, but simultaneously there was a growing feeling of having been overlooked. There was a public purposefulness existing alongside an interior confusion.
In 2012 I met a few friends who struggled with infertility, and this was my startling moment of clarity. As obvious as it might seem now, until that point I had not considered the similarities of the struggles we shared. And now, having experienced infertility, I find myself grateful for the strange gift of lack. If anything, experiencing these two similar seasons has made me more aware of the people all around me who are waiting for something they have not been promised, and how quickly we can run to the seeming safety of that identity to excuse our sins, fears, failures, and life choices.
The lessons I learned in my singleness translate to this infertility in a few ways:
1. I had to learn that marriage was not promised to me, as much as I wanted it and believed I was made for it. It has made it infinitely easier to remember children are not promised to me, as much as I might want them and believe I am made for them. If I believe that a simple desire for a thing means a guarantee I will get the thing, I have made that thing an idol, something that takes the place for God. It cannot be the thing, or the desire for the thing, that commands my worship.
2. I had to learn my purpose could not be put on hold until I was married. In the same way, I have to learn I am not less than, being withheld from, incomplete, or unable to learn what God has for me to learn in barrenness. God will teach me patience, hope, his sufficiency, faithfulness just as thoroughly as he will teach moms of young children and has taught empty nesters. He withholds nothing good from me, not marriage, not children, and not lessons I think are limited to those who have them.
3. I had to learn in my singleness that I would always feel a little incomplete and this was not a bad thing. So too in barrenness. The gift is the lack. The feeling of incompleteness is a great gift to the Christian because it reminds us we're not home yet, we're not face to face with Jesus. Pray that the areas where you feel the ache of emptiness, you would long more for the day of Jesus.
4. I had to learn that my family was not a husband or children, but the local church. Our world and church culture is so built around and acquiesced to the nuclear family, this was a difficult one to learn. In my singleness I had to be very purposeful to find sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and children within the local church. In barrenness it is the same. My family is not limited to blood and DNA, but it is the body of Christ.
5. I had to learn my hope was not in a single person to be my best friend, my closest confidant, and the object of my affection. In barrenness I have to learn that I may never have children to dress, to teach, to feed, to nourish, to love, to discipline, and to release. It teaches me to look up from me, and see the many.
I am convinced, every single day, that my years of singleness were preparing me for these years of infertility. I do not know when or how or if we will have children. But I do know I do not feel wasted, overlooked, afraid, ignored, or short-changed by God. And I know for certain it was because I entered into the suffering of my barren friends during my singleness and learned to see we're all waiting for something, every one of us.
If your table is empty because you are unmarried or because God has withheld children from you or because your children are grown and away, what might he want to fill those chairs with? What is he teaching you about his character? What various sorts of trials is he asking you to enter into with your brothers and sisters, even if they're not the same as yours? How has he prepared you in the past for the struggle you now face?