Volume 11, Issue 2: Femina
For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:8
One of the attendant mercies associated with the blessing of God upon His covenant people is the gift of many children. Scripture abounds with positive pictures and promises regarding our children and our children's children. The woman who is a "fruitful vine" and having many "olive shoots" around the table are both beautiful pictures of God's kindness. When the people of God have the right view of His word, they want many children, and they rejoice in having many children. All this is right and good.
But what about the women in the covenant community who are barren? How can they be comforted in their barrenness? And how can they then go on to experience the kindness and blessing of God in their childless state? Is God punishing them by withholding the blessing of children?
Women who are childless need our comfort just like women who are widows or women who never married need it. All three categories of women must see their state as a hard providence, and then learn to be thankful and content in their condition. God has not abandoned them, and they must learn to see that they can be fruitful in other areas. As the verse above states, all of us, with children or without, can "be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." And as the preceding two verses point out, God can enable women to be fruitful in their faith, in virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and kindness.
Bearing and raising children is one kind of fruitfulness, but there are others. Women without children are in a unique position in the church to minister to the saints because they are not burdened with the responsibility of children. This does not mean that women with children are unable to minister to people, but they are accountable first for their children.
The instructions in Titus tell the older women to teach the younger women (as my husband likes to translate it) to be "into husbands" and "into kids." A childless woman can still be "into kids" in many ways. She can visit women with young children, she can take care of children when mother is sick, she can read to the children on one afternoon a week (as a friend of mine did for several summers), she can have them to her home for a picnic, she can teach them at a Christian school, or help out with homeschooling. Basically, she can get to know and love and enjoy many of the children in the church without actually being their mother.
But if working with children is not what a childless woman wants to do, fruitfulness may be possible through extending hospitality, visiting the sick or helping the elderly, or a host of volunteer activities through the church or community.
We cannot interpret the ways God works in our lives. He gives many children to one woman and none to another. He causes some to have many hardships and others seem to have it very easy. If we believe God, we know that He is working all for our good, and He knows the needs of our souls like no other. We must learn to bless Him in all our circumstances and not feel "picked on" when we do not have things go our way. And we must not assign meanings to our afflictions. Certainly we all need chastisement, and if we are His children, He has promised to discipline us. But we must not try to figure out God's ways with us; we must merely submit to and rejoice in His wise decrees.
When my daughter got married, we prayed for months for a lovely day so we could have the reception outside. The day of her wedding we had the worst weather on record for that day. We had high winds, hail, and even (unheard of here) tornadoes spotted! An acquaintance asked me later what I thought God was telling me. She must have thought I was being punished for something. But I told her I knew exactly what God was telling me: Move inside!
Now I realize that childlessness is far more serious than weather spoiling party plans, but the principle is the same. We must, as Jeremiah Burroughs put it, get under God's feet. We must submit to His authority and sovereignty in our lives. This means that childlessness, like any other affliction, must be seen as the kindness and mercy of God toward us, even if we want children very much. He can use all circumstances to glorify His name, and so can we. Women without children have much to do for the kingdom of God. They must not feel sorry for themselves, but look around at the many blessings their wise Heavenly Father has bestowed on them, and be grateful. Then they can indeed be very fruitful and not barren in the knowledge of their Lord Jesus Christ.
In the same way, those women with children must see that childlessness should not exclude women from friendships. It is fun to fellowship with women who have the same set of circumstances, but it is not healthy to become exclusive. Childless women can feel left out of all the "shop talk" about children. But if a childless woman cultivates a love and interest in children, she can enjoy participating in conversations about childbirth and breast-feeding without feeling left out. She should ask questions and get to know the children, as I said above. This is not only healthy and right, but can also help a woman feel a part of the church community in a way that she will not if she is always withdrawing when the conversation turns to children. This pulling away can actually be self-pity or envy, so childless women must resist this temptation to turn away.
If our purpose is to glorify God, we must yearn to bring Him glory in all our circumstances. God is faithful and will provide the means for us to do so whether He has given us children or not.