Withheld Blessings – A Look at Childlessness
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, CLR’s National Director
She grew up in a family with three sisters and one brother. He grew up with just a sister. When they married they never imagined they would not be able to have children together. Most of their siblings were married with growing families. Their family history did not indicate a relative biologically unable to have children.
The discovery of infertility is almost always a shock to a couple. For some, the shock comes early in their marriage as they want to immediately expand their family. For others, the plan is to wait a few years and then start a family. Regardless of the circumstance, once the emotional commitment is made to have children the discovery that it won’t happen naturally is numbing.
Children as an Emotional Expectation
Christians view children as God describes them: 1) a blessing (Psalm 127:5) and 2) a fulfillment of God’s directive to multiply (Genesis 9:7). Christians in our culture, however, are conditioned in their expectations to bear children. Couples see it as: 1)
a shared entitlement of all married couples (after all, even unmarried couples are having children, and so are friends and acquaintances); 2) an establishment of their legacy (they carry the name and a bit of who they are into the future); and 3)
a statement of their own personhood (the ability to procreate is interpreted as a defining element of their sexuality).
In no way do I wish to diminish the emotional desire to have a child. Some of my close friends and family members have gone through a period of childlessness when this blessing was withheld from them. There are tears, sometimes words of anger and resentment, but most often, a sense of failure and inadequacy.
For those blessed with children, these emotions are hard to fully understand. Some, after all, argue that having children is not all it is cracked up to be. The roller coaster ride through adolescence and the teenage years has a way of tempering one’s zeal for offspring.
These attitudes and emotions fail in one major area: they do not consider childbearing within the context of a relationship with God. That becomes evident when one considers the ironies.
First, a pregnancy is considered a “surprise” in contrast to an “expectation.” Even a couple wanting to have a child eagerly anticipate the pregnancy test results. Despite knowing what they want, it still feels like a surprise when the test is positive.
In contrast, the bearing of children comes to be “expected” in a marriage. The presumption when a husband and wife come together, in time, a pregnancy will result. So on the one hand a pregnancy is a surprise; on the other hand it is an expectation.
Second, blessings are dispensed at God’s good pleasure which Christians generally accept. Some people, for example, enjoy God’s dispensing of the blessing of great wealth. Others find contentment and feel blessed thought early treasure is withheld from them.
In this world peace, prosperity, and freedom are viewed as life’s foundational blessings. Yet, Scripture teaches us to find contentment even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23), to see danger in the excess of wealth (Matthew 19:24), and to find acceptance when there is no freedom (1 Peter 2:18).
In other words, we accept the reality that God dispenses blessings as He sees fit. To some He gives more, to others He gives less. The types of blessings vary dramatically. He grants some an abundance of book knowledge and limited practical knowledge. He blesses one with great looks but not a lot of smarts, and others with great intelligence and not a lot of looks.
God does consider children a blessing. No doubt about it! He calls many other things blessings as well. He says people are blessed when they are insulted because of the name of Christ (1 Peter 4:14). They are blessed if they suffer for doing the right thing (1 Peter 3:14). They are blessed if they are poor in spirit, if they are meek, and if they are peacemakers (Matthew 5:3-11).
When God chooses to withhold a blessing, any blessing, it sometimes runs contrary to His children’s desires (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). The desire may even seem consistent with the kinds of things God would approve (Romans 1:13). Yet, for the believer this should be taken in stride. Even in catastrophic things the heavenly-minded Christian accepts the seemingly arbitrary dispensation of blessings from God (Job 1:21).
When it comes to the desire to have children, however, much of this is easily forgotten. To be able to rejoice at all times — both “having” and “not having” – is perhaps the most elusive and prized of all blessings. It is there, permeating the pages of Scripture. Paul even talked about it as the secret of contentment (Philippians 4:12). King David frequently referenced a “shelter” within the providence of God’s love despite the obstacles (the Psalms). Jesus, during his brief ministry in earth, reminded us of the fleeting nature of things in this life and to keep our minds focused heavenward (Matthew 16:26).
There is no magic elixir to numb a couple’s pain of childlessness when they strongly desire offspring. At such times, however, there is a perspective and priority established for them as God’s children. That priority is to keep the things of God first – His kingdom, His will, His mission (Matthew 6:33).
For those longing for a child, the promise of God’s providence remains (Romans 8:28). This confidence and faith in God does not give the couple the cooing child to cuddle and care for. Instead, it reflects a heart cuddled and cared for eternally by God through the blood of Christ. While human hearts are tempted to measure God’s love by the gift of a child, Christian faith knows His love through the gift of salvation.
Through God’s providence, even withheld blessings can be a blessing for hearts focused on Him and His will. It is in God’s love that the secret of contentment is found to sustain us in all wants, desires, blessings, and withheld blessings.