I know a couples counselor who experienced secondary infertility years ago. He and his wife decided that one child was not a whole family, and that – for them – natural conception was the only acceptable road to parenthood. They tried and prayed, and tried and prayed. But it never happened. They remained a family of three.
Years later, they still mourn the fact that their prayers for a second child went unanswered.
This therapist shares his story of unfulfilled longing with couple after couple – through his practice, through talks at churches and to groups like the one I led for several years. My sense is that he means to offer comfort and commiseration from the vantage point of one who has shared in similar suffering and uncertainty.
When I’ve heard him speak, he’s included sobering statistics about infertility and stories about the stress it brings into relationships. He’s clearly knowledgeable and very experienced.
So, why am I not a big fan?
Because I think he has the potential to do as much harm as good. Not just because I’ve seen people reduced to puddles of tears by the undercurrent of resignation in his words, but because his messages never seem to reflect the light and life of the Holy Spirit. They don’t reveal deep trust in God’s plan, His goodness and His purposefulness. And they are not infused with Christ-centered hope.
But that’s what infertile couples need – someone to remind them that the truths of scripture are not for someone else, or for some other time or situation. They are for us. Now.
This counselor’s experience has taught him to focus on managing the downside – tackling the negative emotions and stressful issues inherent in the journey, and getting people prepared to deal with a life that may well be defined by their failure.
Is that practical? In some ways. Is it helpful? I’m not so sure.
Here’s the problem I see… consciously or not, he sends the signal, ‘Your worst fears could be realized; your dream might never come to pass.; God might fail to deliver.’ That’s what he took away from his infertility journey. But, God never fails us! He longs to see His perfect will for us fulfilled in our lives.
Then why didn’t God give this man a second child?
I’m convinced that when he and his wife set strict limits on how God could expand their family, they closed doors He may have intended to open: egg or sperm donation, IUI, IVF, surrogacy, adoption, foster parenting…. who knows? It could have been some combination of those, or all of them.
Was it wrong to set those limits? No, it was their choice to make. But, the absence of a second child doesn’t mean God said ‘no’ to them. They may have been the ones who said ‘no’ to God — by closing every door but one.
God’s permissive will gives us the freedom to close any doors, set any limits, and refuse any alternatives to our own will for ourselves. But, with that privilege comes the risk that our choices will move us away from His best, instead of toward it.
Is that what happened with the therapist and his wife? Only God knows for sure. But here’s what I know… when we act out of obedience and trust, it honors God. And scripture says He responds to our faith by drawing near to us and delighting Himself in blessing us. That kind of interaction with God transforms people in ways that strengthen their faith, fill them with confident hope, and reinvigorate their belief in His faithfulness.
That’s not what I see in this man. Instead, I see someone who’s made it his life’s work to walk infertile couples down the long, dark path that he and his wife walked many years ago. Don’t get me wrong; I think there is a real kindness in his desire to give guidance and comfort. But God calls us to so much more than a long walk down a dark path.
He calls us into the light. He calls us to believe that He can do anything. And He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are willing to put down our lists of terms and conditions, hold out our open hands, and say:
“Lord, I welcome whatever you choose to give, in whatever form you choose to give it. I know that your will for me is always your very best. Please help me wait for it patiently, confident in your goodness, and in complete peace.”