Sick Spirit, Barren Body

[Originally published on Missional Motherhood.]

When I am sick, I do two things: go to the doctor, and ask my church for prayer support. My church then does two things: pray for me, and bring food to my house. Yes, it’s a stereotypical response, but that’s because it works. Unless you are a doctor, there aren’t many ways to help a hurting friend besides nourishing her body and soul.

Infertility is a kind of sick, but the church was the opposite of nourishing in my experience (and Sheldon’s mom never sang “Soft Kitty” to me). As soon as I was diagnosed as infertile, I asked for prayer—but I became the subject of gossip. I needed spiritual support—but I was indirectly told my pregnancy failures were my own fault.

My elder said it, my best friend said it, and—to her absolute horror today—my mother said it. Before I struggled with infertility, I have no doubt that I cavalierly said it to some of my friends, too: “Sarah was ninety years old before she had Isaac.” That seems to be the reaction you get whenever you tell your Christian friends that you’re having trouble getting pregnant. To be fair, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. All your loved ones want to do is bolster your faith by reminding you that you’re in good company, that the heroines of our faith had the same heartache you do. . . .

A few months into your journey, you may take the encouragement as just that. You try to remind yourself that none of the matriarchs knew a successful pregnancy would be the outcome while they were in the midst of their monthly struggles. You think, If I can have enough faith, God will bless me with a child too. (Barren 37, 42)

People compared me to Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and even the Virgin Mary one time. (Yes, that last unwanted conversation—with a male church elder—was exactly as bizarre as you would imagine it to be.) They said, “God answers the prayers of His faithful daughters with miracles, so He’ll do that for you.” But as I suffered multiple miscarriages, I began to hear, “You aren’t faithful enough for God to answer your prayers. Your spirit is too sick, and your body is too broken. God won’t let you be a mother.” The intensifying feeling of spiritual inadequacy was no one’s intention, but it was the result.

We are too quick to “solve” everyone’s problems with a scriptural platitude.

When we learn someone is suffering in any way, we want to fix it. But even in church, we don’t take the time necessary to empathize and learn how we can serve her. Maybe it’s because we love her; more often, I fear, it’s because we don’t want to be bothered for longer than a three-minute chat. Walking through suffering with a friend is a commitment.

So you want to know what to do, what to say when a friend tells you she’s infertile? Listen to her. Hold her. Cry with her. Pray for her. Love her for as long as she’s suffering—be it months or years—and tell her so regularly.

You could even sing “Soft Kitty” to her. (It’s what Sheldon’s mom would do.)

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