Carol dreads Mother’s Day. In the past, she and her husband have always gone to church and then to Grandma’s house where the men in the family cook a Mother’s Day feast. But this year Carol may skip church. Why? Last year she left the Mother’s Day service in tears. Her pastor had preached on Psalm 127:3, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” He said a godly home is “rewarded with the treasure of children.” Carol was deeply hurt. “He implied that those of us who are unable to have children must not have a good home based on the Lord,” she recalled.

Carol and her husband are among the one in six couples in North America who face the pain of infertility. Defined medically, infertility is the inability to achieve a pregnancy after a year or more of regular sexual relations. It can also be defined as the inability to carry a pregnancy to a live birth.

But statistics and definitions say little about emotional pain. For eight years my wife and I struggled with infertility. We visited almost half a dozen doctors, spent thousands of dollars, and experienced a roller-coaster ride of rising hopes and shattered dreams.

And throughout our ordeal we experienced both blessing and bruising from the body of Christ. Some believers were extremely helpful and supportive. Others only poured salt on our wounds without realizing it. We believe the church must become a healing community for infertile couples. Here are our challenges to the church:

• Be careful with the Word of God. Used carelessly, the “double-edged sword” can become a dangerous weapon. Psalm 127:3 is a prime example. To be sure, this verse teaches that children are a wonderful blessing from God. But if children are evidence of God’s blessing, does the lack of children become evidence of God’s disfavor? Not if we pay attention to the Bible.

Some of the most godly people in Scripture were infertile. Who would suggest that Abraham and Sarah or Zechariah and Sarah were childless because they were under a curse?

• Be wary of false assumptions. Many infertile couples appear perfectly content with their childless state. But don’t be fooled. Many infertile couples tend to camouflage their pain. Some feel personally responsible for the fact that their bodies are not working properly. Others keep their sorrow secret because they fear insensitivity from others. There are probably couples in your church struggling with infertility, and you may not even be aware of it.

• Be cautious with advice. Every infertile couple comes to dread such pearls of wisdom as: “Why don’t you just adopt, then you’ll get pregnant for sure,” or, “You’re too tense; just relax.” All the advice is well intended, but much of it is poorly executed.

• Be willing to listen. It is important that couples with infertility not feel isolated, says Dr. Anthony Labrum of the University of Rochester School of Medicine. “They need to feel free to talk about their problems without fear that what they say may be uncomfortable for the people listening,” he explains.

• Be an intercessor. Encourage the childless couples in your church by telling them you are praying for them. At a recent Mother’s Day worship service, I not only prayed for mothers and families, but also for those who were never blessed with children. A woman came up to me after the service with moist eyes and said, “That is the first time anyone ever prayed for me at a Mother’s Day service.”

Childless couples in a church family sensitive to their struggle feel helped. But if your church fails to take up the challenge, the Carols in your congregation may go away hurt—and maybe stay away.

By John Van Regenmorter, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church in Denver, Colorado, and coauthor of Dear God, Why Can’t We Have a Baby? (Baker, 1986).

Speaking Out does not necessarily reflect the views of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

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