BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on loss, grief, suffering, and Christ’s healing hope. In today’s post, Pat Quinn addresses the pain of infertility. You can read Part 1 by Bob Kellemen at There Is Hope.
Infertility—a Case Study
“The English language lacks the words to mourn an absence. For the loss of a parent, grandparent, spouse, child or friend, we have all manner of words and phrases, some helpful some not….But for an absence, for someone who was never there at all, we are wordless to capture that particular emptiness. For those who deeply want children and are denied them, those missing babies hover like silent ephemeral shadows over their lives”(Laura Bush, Spoken from the Heart).
Infertility affects one in six couples and causes significant suffering, especially for the woman. Frustrated desires, a shattered sense of identity, feelings of being defective, and misunderstanding from others can produce a profound grief—the grief over the absence of a longed-for child. So how does the gospel give a realistic radiant hope to a woman grieving infertility? I’d like you to meet Natalie.
Natalie contacted me to meet about the painful struggle she was facing with infertility. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis some years before which had caused great physical pain and the greater emotional pain of infertility. She and her husband had been unsuccessful in their attempts to conceive a child, and this had resulted in Natalie experiencing anger, shame, and depression.
Here’s how she described her feelings:
“I was in constant physical pain and (I thought) would never be able to give my husband a child, and I felt like a worthless, defective waste of space.”
She was distraught and tearful and apprehensive as we met, but we began by asking God to be present in our conversation and to bring hope. As we talked, we agreed that Natalie was grieving the “death” of hope for a child. Many women who struggle with infertility consider this grief equal to or greater than the pain of a terminal illness or divorce. Providentially, being able to identify the pain of infertility as a kind of “death” in our first session pointed Natalie to the Great Hope that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can provide:
“I believe in the resurrection from the dead.”
Our counseling goal became experiencing “resurrection life out of grieving death.”
As we continued to meet over the next months, it was a glorious privilege to see the Lord work deeply in Natalie’s heart and life. Here is her testimony:
“Slowly at first, and then very rapidly, God used biblical counseling to change my heart in unimaginable ways. Through the Psalms especially, He assured me that He loved me with a steadfast love. Through Paul’s writings, God taught me that neither my endometriosis nor my ability to bear children defined me. God spoke to my heart that I was His beloved daughter, a child of incomparable value because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. In His loving kindness, God comforted me with the truth that He made me, and that He doesn’t make mistakes.
I grew in love for God and began to value intimacy with Him as more important than anything—even children. I became thankful for the suffering God allowed me to endure because it exposed my idols, led me to repentance, and brought me to a deeper love for Christ.”
How powerfully God’s kindness led to repentance and resurrection life!
What I Learned from Counseling Natalie
1. The Scriptures speak timelessly and relevantly to all issues of life, including the grief of infertility.
In reflecting on counseling Natalie, I was struck by the fact that we never even looked at the “infertility Scriptures” about Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth. We certainly could have, but there were others passages that spoke deeply to Natalie’s heart and life, especially Psalms and Paul’s epistles. This has strengthened my confidence in the relevancy and sufficiency of Scripture for counseling. Natalie would say the same.
2. I saw anew that grief and pain challenge our sense of identity, expose what our hearts are living for, and can, by God’s sovereign grace, lead to redemption.
I was reminded how carefully and sensitively and relationally we must deal with the sufferings of others so that God can do His transforming work. Natalie needed a sincere welcome, heartfelt prayer, compassionate listening, and gently spoken truth to lead her to Jesus so that He could redeem her grief.
3. There is no grief or pain so deep that the gospel cannot bring compassion, forgiveness, hope, and the transforming power of God.
Jesus Himself became more precious and satisfying to Natalie, and this led her to a more heartfelt repentance and joyful intimacy. We actually began to see “resurrection life out of grieving death.”
4. God “comforts us in all our affliction so that we can comfort others in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
After our season of counseling, Natalie joined one of my counseling training classes. By her participation in class and final exam, she has shown how much she has learned and that she is eager to share what God has done with others. She said:
“It is my hope that with God’s help, I can continue to grow in an understanding of His Word so that I can share it with others…hoping that the Lord might use me to give them even a fraction of the heart change He used biblical counseling to give me.”
Praise God that nothing is wasted with Him!
5. Finally, God reinforced what a privilege it is to come alongside God’s grieving children and walk with them as he ministers his grace to them.
It was a great joy to see God work so graciously in Natalie’s life. It reminded me that in the best biblical counseling we feel ourselves to be spectators of the power and love of God. We rejoice that “neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3: 7). As Paul said in another place, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1: 31).
Christians Are Not Stoics
We often grieve in a fallen world, and infertility is a painful source of grieving. But we are called to grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4: 13) and to comfort those who are grieving with the comfort we have received from God (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4). Our great hope in Christ is the resurrection from the dead and the promise that one day there will be no more “mourning nor crying nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21: 4).