We probably all know married couples who are childless and wondering if they should a) keep waiting and praying; b) look into fertility treatments; or c) pursue adoption. Every situation is different, and so I am not in any way attempting here to make this seem like an easy choice. But if you are in this situation, here are a few general considerations.

First, there is nothing wrong with waiting and praying. I would simply add the warning here that too much focus on trying to conceive can cause pressure on the relationship, and that pressure can end up alienating husband and wife. It is possible to make one another feel inadequate, which just leads to more tension and frustration. So make sure your waiting and praying is not characterized by discontent or envy or self-pity. These are unfruitful attitudes and the thing you are wanting is fruitfulness. And if the waiting and praying is causing the marriage bed to become a joyless striving, then the desire to conceive has moved beyond its lawful place. If this describes you, then I urge you not to move on to adoption or medical help yet. You must solve the joyless problem first. Otherwise you will take it right along with you. A discontent childless woman who conceives will soon become a discontent mother.

I have known couples without children to look for other ways to be fruitful, and so they have used their gifts to glorify God and bless the church community. And I have seen God prosper and bless these couples with a good return on their efforts. So I suggest you start there. How has God has equipped you? What are your gifts and abilities? What are your opportunities? Before you immediately turn to b) or c), consider these things. He has given you one another, and that is a wonderful provision in itself. Turn a profit on your circumstances. Keep your eye on the blessings. It is only natural to want children. Even so, there are many afflictions in this world. How does God want us to behave when we have difficulty, affliction, or distress? The Bible has much to say about such things. Find out what the Christian demeanor is to be in such things, and thank God that you have the opportunity to apply His Word. Cultivate thanksgiving. Make your home and your marriage a joyful altar on which you serve the Lord Jesus. He will bless you in this.

Now let me just say a couple of things about fertility treatments. Assuming you are joyfully content, of course it is entirely lawful for a Christian woman to get checked out by a physician, preferably a Christian who has a high view of children and biblical ethical standards. It is possible that you have a condition that can be treated. But once you allow the professionals to start fertilizing little eggs in a petri dish, you are playing God. And you are introducing ethical dilemmas into an area where you are seriously over your head. So keep your life simple. If you can achieve pregnancy by some procedure that will not involve freezing fertilized eggs or flushing fertilized eggs, then proceed with caution. But just because something is possible does not mean that it is righteous, holy, or good. It might be diabolical.

But what about adoption? The same beginning point is absolutely necessary. You do not want to adopt a child out of your own neediness. If you do, you will find that a little child will not satisfy your needs. Adoption is not a cure for needy mothers. Adoption is not about you at all; it is about a little child who needs a home. When parents rush to adopt because they have a need to be parents, they are coming at it all the wrong way, and it will be a hard and rude awakening. Of course this is true when couples conceive children as well. Becoming a mother will either make you more selfless or more selfish, depending on your starting point. Selfish unmarried women become selfish married women, and selfish wives can become selfish mothers, whether by adoption or by conceiving on their own. I hope you see my point here.

Now I realize each situation will be different, and I don’t pretend this post has covered all the possibilities. So get some pastoral advice if your situation is sticky. Meanwhile, in all things give thanks.

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24 thoughts on “Fruitfulness

  1. That was a very gracious and well-stated message, Nancy.

    My husband was adopted at the age of 16 years by a couple who had been childless for their first 15 years of marriage. His mother was, and is, a bitter woman, angry at God and her husband. Although he is their son, 35 years later she still reminds him often that he is still not the biological child she wished for. There almost seems to be a sense of distrust in him because he is not a blood relative.

    We have seen so many positive, loving examples of adoption that we are all for it! But having the heart attitude right first makes all the difference. You have stated very accurately before that in various difficulties, the joy comes first then God can change the circumstances.

  2. What a wonderful post.

    My husband and I were childless for several years when we were first married. We had sought infertility treatments, which did not involve invitro fertilization. We prayed about the extent of our treatments and sought God’s plan. After we gave up on medical intervention God called us to adopt. During the adoption process I had an epiphany from God on Christmas Eve. While I prayed that night, God made it very clear to me that He had already provided us with a son, His Son. Not only was I to be satisfied with this, I was to be humbled and grateful. My heart immediately filled with joy at the thought of the child God had already given us.

    Now, several years later, we have a five year old miracle daughter through adoption and she has a two year old little brother who came along as a biological miracle after I turned 40.

    God is great! Nancy, you are right, we need to be content where God has us.

    I could write more on how God used us and changed us through those childless years, but it would take a book.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts, Mrs. Wilson. Over the past three years my husband and I have started wondering more if than when, and it’s easy to get discouraged or wonder why God has put us in this place. However, the truth is that for a good part of those three years we didn’t have very good finances (salary not debt), and I wasn’t in a very good place myself. Honestly I was barely capable of taking care of myself much less my husband and far less a helpless infant. Looking back it’s pretty clear that God had some very good reasons for not giving us any children. Hopefully now that we’re both doing much better God will bless us with kids, but for now it’s just a daily search for the strength and direction to do the work God has planned for me.

  4. Nancy, what do you think of single women adopting children? I have no interest in doing so myself, but I can think of at least three women I know who have done it. I’m not close enough to any of them to know their motives, and I’m not wise enough to pronounce a judgment on their decision one way or another, but I feel rather uncomfortable about the idea. On the one hand, children need fathers and it doesn’t seem fair to deliberately choose fatherlessness for a child. On the other hand, one parent is better than none, and might provide a better home than an orphanage. Is this a place to apply the same sort of wisdom — examining motives and discerning whether a particular woman would do well to adopt — or is there a fundamental problem with the scenario?

  5. Valerie,
    Of course every situation is unique. I too know an unmarried woman who has adopted, and I have nothing but admiration for her. But not everyone could do what she has and is doing. I do think it is worth considering if a woman has the means, support, inclination, and desire to do so.

  6. My husband and I both came from very large families (11 children in each), and came into marriage with a deep desire to be parents. 3 years and two miscarriages later, it’s still just the two of us. There was never any clue ahead of time that we would have trouble conceiving, so neither of us had a picture of life outside of children. I think the biggest struggle is figuring out how to adjust the dreams we’ve both had for so long. How do you accept that you may never have something that is so important to both of you?

  7. “Becoming a mother will either make you more selfless or more selfish, depending on your starting point. Selfish unmarried women become selfish married women, and selfish wives can become selfish mothers…”

    Wow, what a timely post for me! I am actually afraid to post this, but here goes… I’m a very selfish mother. Now, I could use the excuse that I learned from my own selfish mother, and I certainly have had to repent of bitterness regarding that, but I know I’m responsible for my own actions. So I ask you, Mrs. Wilson, would you mind doing a post on maternal selfishness or pointing us to one you’ve already written? It is the thing I struggle with the most, even though I “know” better. It is difficult to make myself do the things with/for my children that I know I should.

    Any counsel you could give would be greatly appreciated!

  8. Bravo! I wholeheartedly agree.

    Anna (Mom of a slew of outrageous & deeply loved bio and adopted children only because of a gracious God who must be full of humor!)

  9. Good post. I have walked this path and it can be very difficult. Church can be particularly hard. The experience of infertility changes you forever and is indeed filled with spiritual dangers. And yet as hard as it was – I’ll never forget the hours right after I knew that our IVF had failed, overwhelmed with sadness thinking I’d never be a mommy -I wouldn’t erase it from my life. It has given me compassion and perception and an ability to walk with others in their suffering that is good.

    We do have two children now – born when I was 39 and 41 – and are deeply thankful every day. God used acupuncture and Chinese herbs to help us conceive our miracle babies – so there are alternatives to traditional medicine which are healthier and less risky and less complicated and less expensive that IVF.

  10. Shelly,

    Of course we are all selfish creatures. The fact that you know it indicates to me that you are being sanctified in that area. If you were not being tempted to selfishness, you would be tempted to some other sin. So at least you are aware of where the battle is in your sanctification. You say you have repented, and that is good. So don’t be surprised when you are tempted to be selfish. Pray in advance for an eye that sees the temptation and sees the way out. When you sin, confess it to God and to your children. And don’t beat yourself up over confessed sins. Make restitution where needed and press on. If you would like more specific help, let me know, and I will gladly email you privately.

  11. Thank you for your post. Just wanted to add that many couples choose adoption as the primary way to build their family. I know it was not your intent to portray adoption as a third or last choice, but many pople have that assumption. I would love to encourage Christian couples to consider adotion as a way to build their families, not just as a last resort, and for other Christian families to change their thinking about adoption.

  12. Nancy said: “And don’t beat yourself up over confessed sins.” This is actually a subtle sin in itself. We deceive ourselves thinking we are pious because we are sorrowful over our sins, we reproach ourselves, we agonize, we get all twisted up inside “mourning” over our sins. And yet we are missing it all! We are in effect telling Christ that His blood is NOT sufficient to cleanse our sins. This, I can attest to because I lived this way for so long. This renders a wife and mother useless, UNFRUITFUL, unproductive, and selfish.

    May the joy of the Lord be before our faces, may we “praise the glory of HIS GRACE.” And as my husband is fond of telling our little two year old boy when he falls, “get up and dust off, son.”

  13. Thank you again, Mrs. Wilson!

    For what it’s worth, ladies, here are my thoughts. The Lord custom-builds our trials. He knows our frames. He promises grace every day, and never gives what can’t be handled through that grace. As one who is in year six of infertility, I am acquainted with every emotion this affliction offers. But the Lord is sweeter to me because of it. Every year that goes by, the list-of-things-learned becomes more beautiful as it lenghtens. But the bottom line (and most important) is, my life isn’t about me. It isn’t my life at all – it’s Christ’s life in me. It’s His story, not mine, and if He omits children from the screenplay, will I pout? Will I kick and scream, throw a pity party, tell God goodbye? Unthinkable. The only appropriate reaction left, then, is joy. Not only do I not want to curse God’s work, I want to EXTOL it!

    As encouragement for any who need it, God delights in giving grace for this. He DOES give grace to throw down the idol and surrender it to Him. Don’t grasp for it; let it go. Though you are yet (and maybe always) a family of two, you are free to live robustly in His joy. And if you ask for joy, He WILL give it.

  14. Jen’s comment brings up another thought in my mind. I don’t see a particularly clear connection between specific afflictions and specific lessons. But that’s OK. Because the big ol’ TRUST GOD lesson is there at the heart of that not knowing all the whys and wherefores.

    (And if anybody else shares my predilection for wondering about phrases like “whys and wherefores,” this will satisfy your curiosity.)

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you Nancy and Jen! What wonderfully wise and encouraging words. This perspective has caused a weight to be lifted from my shoulders.

    This post has caused me to think about one of the wisest women I know, my great aunt Norma. Though I never really realized it until I was an adult, she had many afflictions throughout her life. Her mother died on Christmas Eve when she was eleven, she was single until she was thirty-five, she suffered one miscarriage and remained childless thereafter, her husband died relatively young after battling cancer for several years, and she has now been a widow living on her own for over twenty years.

    No one would ever guess any of these things upon meeting her, however. She is no complainer and has consistently throughout her life as you said Nancy, “turned a profit on her circumstances.” Single until age 35? Lived all over the US, befriending all kinds of women whom she is still in contact with today. Never had any children of her own? Opened up her home to all of her nieces and nephews and their subsequent children, making them all feel like her own children and grandchildren. Widowed at a young age? Goes out to lunch every Sunday with newly-widowed women at her church and serves to encourage them. Her sister, my great aunt Lorraine, had this same perspective on life too. I won’t go into detail except to say that she never married but did great work for the Salvation Army and made many, many beautiful quilts in her day.

    So thank you again, Nancy and Jen, for these reminders! I hope to possess as much wisdom as the two of you and my two great aunts one day. =)

  16. Thank you, Jen, that is beautiful encouragement. Your words apply to any idol we might hold up in our hearts and minds. The desire for that idol can be very strong and driving (again, no matter what it is). Often the desire for that idol makes us blind, especially if it’s a good thing, to realize that it is indeed an idol and we have set our desire for it above our desire for God.

    May the Lord richly bless you, Jen.

  17. Our family began in 1994 and it grew by one Chinese baby in 2005. For years, my husband and I struggled with “playing God” through adoption. We worried that the proactive nature of adoption (vs. conception) would be taking matters into our own hands. It was after learning more about God’s heart for adoption, our own adoption as His children and his command to care for orphans (James 1:27) that we realized adoption was God’s plan for our family. There was no loss or grief that brought us to adoption. There was only joy and excitement in the family God had intended for us. We now have two daughters born in China and part of our family forever. As an adoptive parent, I wish more couples would view adoption as a first choice… as God’s Plan A instead of a backup when everything else fails. Every child deserves to be hoped for instead of settled for. I can assure you that regardless of how your children arrive, they will spur the work of sanctification in you as a parent. But I have seen those that adopted for other reasons, so I do appreciate the caution for motives. John Piper also addressed that in a video about singles adopting.

  18. I’m sure you’ve been waiting for somebody to take you to task on this, so I’ll step up and be the one!

    “But once you allow the professionals to start fertilizing little eggs in a petri dish, you are playing God. And you are introducing ethical dilemmas into an area where you are seriously over your head.”

    Can I just ask, with due respect, what makes this ethical dilemma over our heads? God has given us minds to use and his Spirit to guide us. The suggestion that this is “over our heads” seems to imply that laziness is okay (i.e.., the absence of rigorous examination of a difficult issue). It tells me that what is comfortable is more important than what is true (i.e., most of us FEEL uncomfortable with IVF because it seems so invasive, impersonal, etc., but is it, in truth different from many other life-giving medical advances we regularly benefit from? Maybe, maybe not. The issue demands careful study, not hasty, unsupported condemnation.) The direction to “keep your life simple”, is, of course, in many areas good advice. However, when it refers to searching out matters that require careful, Spirit-guided consideration, I think it is unhelpful. “Keep it simple” seems to me to be a veiled way of saying, “Don’t bother trying to understand something hard, especially if it’s something you’re not used to”. How does that aid in the effort toward wisdom and understanding?

    And, just for clarity’s sake, can I emphasize that IVF does not in any way REQUIRE the flushing of fertilized eggs? I know you didn’t say that it did, but I think some might be led to believe that it does after reading this post.

  19. I just reread my comment this morning and was surprised that it sounded far more caustic than I intended (I didn’t actually intend it to be caustic at all!). I should have been more cautious before submitting it. My concerns still stand, but I’m afraid it didn’t come across very respectfully and for that I’m sorry. My desire is to be respectful in all my communication, whether face-to-face or through an online discussion board. Please accept my apology.

  20. Jackie,
    Thank you for both your comments. As a pastor for over thirty years, my husband has had to counsel people who have gotten themselves into ethical dilemmas, one of those being what to do with the extra frozen fertilized eggs that they didn’t use. This is what I mean by making your life needlessly complicated. When God causes a miscarriage, a woman may grieve over the loss, but she does not need to feel personal guilt. God oversees conception, opening and closing wombs. I appreciate the lawful help that modern medicine can provide when it does not step out of its realm and try to play God.
    When a physician places several fertilized eggs into a womb, everyone knows that they are not all expected to make it. Many of the multiples born today are the result of more eggs surviving than planned. So even if the fertilized eggs are not flushed, many don’t survive the implantation process.

  21. Thank you for taking the time to reply with a more thorough explanation of your reasons for what you wrote. And, thanks for your patience with me. I recognize this is a complex issue on which people (even Christian people) disagree. And, I do appreciate that untold numbers of people have gotten themselves into ethical quandaries by not thinking through the ramifications of freezing too many fertilized eggs. However, I want to point out that though those people are out there, there are also people who have thought through those ramifications and have determined to freeze no more embryos than they are prepared to implant and implant no more than they are reasonably and safely prepared to carry in a given pregnancy. When each embryo is given a fair chance at life, the quandary over what to do with “left-over” embryos disappears.

    I agree that God oversees conception. I guess I just don’t see that the IVF process challenges that assumption because God is still overseeing–He is still the author of life. IVF doesn’t allow us to get around God–we are still utterly at his mercy to bless the effort.

    Just wanted to offer a different perspective on what I think is a tricky issue. Thanks.

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