How the Church Can Care for the Childless
by Chelsea Patterson Sobolik
Sitting in the pews of every church are men and women struggling with the excruciating pain of childlessness. For some, it might be infertility, trying month after month with no success, to finally get pregnant. For others, it might be a miscarriage, the death of their precious anticipated little one that’s left them heartbroken. Regardless of the particular circumstances, the trial of childlessness is one of the most difficult and devastating that someone can experience. Living in the nightmare that is infertility cuts to the very core of the way humanity was designed. One of the first commandments the Lord gave Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply. When a couple struggles to bear babies, they can quickly feel guilt and shame over their inability to fulfill that commandment.
I’m all too familiar with the ache to be a mother, but natural motherhood won’t come. With a tear stained face, I’ve entered into the greatest wrestling match of my life with the Lord. “God, I don’t understand!” I’ve cried out in prayer. “You’ve placed this longing on my heart, only to leave me with an unfulfilled desire!” Over the years, I’ve shared the cries of my heart with close friends and trusted companions at my church, as they’ve helped me walk through my sorrow.
The Church is God’s household, filled with God’s children. It should be a beacon of comfort and hope. A place where people will feel cared for, heard, understood and unconditionally loved. Christians know that they will face trials, and they must be armed and equipped to care for the wounded and the hurting among the saints. Below are a few suggestions for pastors, elders and church members on how to care for the childless in your congregations.
Remind People that Grief is Godly
Those grieving childlessness are grieving a dream deferred. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Come alongside the childless and grieve with them. Remind them that it’s okay to feel the hurt, pain and loss. That they don’t have to quickly “get over” their sorrow, but they have a Savior who’s well acquainted with grief, and was the man of all sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Encourage them to take their grief and press into the arms of the Beloved who knows their pain.
Preach Good Sermons
Make it a point to regularly incorporate the childless into sermons. Remember that the Bible is full of women who have struggled with the longing to be a mother (Sarah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth). Dive into these passages, and preach gospel-centered sermons that will encourage the souls of the weary.
Pray with and on Behalf of the Childless
David was bold in his prayers before the Lord. He knew where to take his questions, his grief, his pain and his longings—straight into the heart of his Father. Prayer should be the first thing Christians do with and on behalf of the childless. In the Psalms, we see that David’s most trusted companion and friend was the Lord, but we also see that David wasn’t afraid of sharing exactly what was on his mind and heart. In Psalm 13, he bluntly asks the Lord how long he’ll have to suffer. David felt forgotten, and bent the ear of the Lord in his sorrow and frustration.
“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
Hannah, a woman who intimately knew the pain of infertility, wasn’t shy to bring her pain and tears before the Lord in prayer. The Bible says that “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” Hannah’s prayers were so fervent that Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk.
We should take the charge to weep with those who weep seriously and come alongside the suffering with words of comfort and truth. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
Point Their Eyes to the Lord
The most important thing the church can do is redirect the gaze of the childless to Christ. Give them room to grieve the loss of their dream, or the loss of their baby. Please don’t feel the need to swoop in and slap Bible verses on their suffering. Yes, the Word of God is inspired and inherent, but shouldn’t be viewed or used as a quick fix. Learn how to sit with someone in her grief, and how to gently point her eyes to the Lord in the midst of her trials. One of the most comforting verses in the Bible is found in Revelation 21:4, where the Lord promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until that day, remember that the Lord is present as each tear falls. Suffering is inevitable while we live in a fallen world, but may we ensure that no one suffers alone.
Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood, and has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption and foster care policy. Chelsea was adopted as a newborn from Bucharest, Romania, grew up in North Carolina, and then graduated from Liberty University. She and her husband Michael live in Washington, D.C.
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