By Chelsea Sobolik
“You won’t ever be able to carry your own child.”
I looked at her stunned. I fought for breath to fill my lungs, and in one sentence from the doctor, my life was forever changed.
When my body was being formed in my mother’s womb, some reproductive organs failed to form. There I was at 19 realizing that, biologically, I could never be a mother.
As I tried wrapping my mind around this news, I left the appointment and was back in the car with my mom. I was too shocked to cry; all I felt was numbness. It took a few days for the shock to turn into myriad emotions—sadness, frustration grief, shame, anger, and loneliness.
Now married, I mourn with my husband the absence of biological children in our future.
As I’ve walked through childlessness within the church community, I’ve been grateful for many Christian leaders, friends, and family who have supported me.
But my experience hasn’t been ideal. Here are some suggestions to help the church better understand the trial of childlessness, create an environment that encourages openness, and more effectively reach out to the childless in their church family.
Pray for the childless
One of the most important things church communities can do for the childless is to regularly pray for them—with them and from the pulpit. What pastors choose to pray for on Sunday mornings teaches others how to pray and what to pray for. Here are some specific requests of those who need prayer:
- Pray that their heart, souls, minds, and even bodies might be strengthened.
- Pray they might know God’s love through the compassion of fellow Christians.
- Pray that the Lord would answer their prayers for a child.
- Pray they will use this trial to glorify the Lord.
- Pray that others might come to a saving knowledge of the Lord though this trial.
Learn how to ask helpful questions
A person’s role in the life of a sufferer is to show up and love with Christ’s love. Since grief can take on many forms, it’s good to understand what’s helpful and what’s harmful for someone grieving. Below are a few questions to ask those who are suffering:
- Is it helpful for me to regularly ask how you’re doing?
- Should I assume you’ll share your struggles when you’re ready?
- How can I comfort you in your grief?
- What ways can I serve you?
- Are there particular things that trigger your grief?
Avoid using Bible verses as a quick fix
God’s Word is inerrant, full of power, wisdom, guidance, and comfort, but I’ve seen far too many people expect that a few moments of Bible reading will completely solve all of life’s difficult circumstances.
If Scripture doesn’t offer a “quick fix” to grief or sorrow, why should we try do so? Scripture should be used to shape every part of our lives and our hearts, but the actual work often takes more time than expected.
Don’t minimize the burden of childlessness
Many may think they’re being encouraging, but the advice or clichéd statements can come across as insensitive. Try not to assume you have all the answers or that the woman you’re attempting to comfort will be reassured by your own experience with suffering or childlessness.
Rather than saying, “I know how you feel,” it’s more helpful to say, “I have been through a similar experience.” Being willing to sit in the mystery of someone’s suffering without offering an explanation is one of the greatest gifts you can give.
A supportive way to care for people walking through childlessness is to simply be present and be available. Even if you haven’t gone through a similar trial, be willing to listen and provide companionship.
Be the type of friend who will prop up someone when they get weak and tired. Sometimes, our souls are simply too exhausted, and we need people who help us when life gets to be too much to bear.
However, the weight of childlessness can be an overwhelming burden to bear, and it can also be a lot for others to help someone carry. The stronger their network of support, the less likely it is that individuals will burn out.
Seek out elders, church staff, or other spiritual mentors in your church to create a strong network of support for those who are grieving.
The church can play such a powerful role in the lives of the childless by walking with them through the dark valley and by pointing them to God’s fatherly care. Ultimately, it’s His love, His hope, and His care for the childless that will heal their souls.
Chelsea is a writer, author and policy director for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Adapted with permission from Longing for Motherhood by Chelsea Patterson Sobolik. Copyright 2018, Moody Publishers.