Sometimes you get exactly what you want. And, sometimes, no matter how much you want it, you can’t have what you’re asking for.
My wife Brooklyn and I are teaching our 18-month-old son this lesson. He often doesn’t understand, and might even throw a tantrum in his frustration. The cycle is almost comical, but we know that good parenting means saying “no” sometimes.
If we’re honest, though, this cycle of “want -- not getting what we want -- throwing a tantrum” repeats itself over and over throughout our lives: even now that we’re adults. And if we look deeper into our hearts, some of us may even see that we turn that frustration into anger at God.
We often find ourselves stuck between two teachings of Scripture. On the one hand, Jesus’ words in Matthew 7: “Ask and it will be given to you.” On the other, the writer of Hebrews: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as [his children]…He disciplines us for our good.” (paraphrased from chapter 12) At the same time, we believe that God is a good Father who gives good gifts to his children, and that God is a good Father who knows what his children need better than they do. That’s is a hard lesson.
The tension that often arises while learning this lesson can lead us to wonder if God actually does care for us. It can cause us to wonder how God can seem stingy with Christians while “sinners” prosper and get everything they want.
If this describes where you are or where you’ve been, hear this: It is okay to not feel okay. I know it hurts. I know you’re struggling. I know you’re angry. But God loves you more than you can imagine, even while you’re angry with him.
Why can I say this? Because I have been where you are; I spent nearly two years there. I wrote the words below during a very dark time in my life, and left them virtually untouched since then. I kept hurting for many months after I wrote them. Finally, God gave us a child – not because we finally convinced him to do so, but because it was his will in his timing.
I hope you find in it the honest reflections of a child questioning his Father.
“Infertile couples like you.”
That’s how the nurse said it. It just rolled off her tongue, as easily as when she told us, “Good morning.” Like she’d said it hundreds of times before. And she probably had – after all, her job is to interact with hopeful couples like Brooklyn and me. But we weren’t those other couples; we were… well, us. Different somehow. A successful, happy, loving, God-fearing husband and wife.
I’m sure she didn’t mean for her words to sting like they did. She was just explaining the test results. Sting, though, isn’t exactly the right word; maybe “shock” is more accurate. It froze me there for a few seconds. Like trying to turn on an unplugged lamp: it takes you a moment in the darkness to discover why nothing is happening.
As soon as “infertile” entered my mind, it was met by an army of denials. “No, we’re not infertile. We’re just having trouble getting pregnant. Lots of couples try as long as we have. We have no use for words like you.”
But the shock and the denials gave way to the reality: She’s right. We are infertile.
As I write this, Brooklyn and I have been trying to get pregnant for fifteen months. Since Brooklyn and I first prayed for a baby of our own, about 160 million babies have been born into this world. Yet we are still a family of two.
I won’t lie and say that the time has been wholly painful. We’ve had joyful moments; and Brooklyn and I have grown closer in ways I could not have imagined before walking through this together. Days pass where I feel fulfilled in my marriage, home, church, work, and friendships. We’re still that successful, happy, loving, God-fearing husband and wife that we were when talk of becoming parents was about a distant future, a hope for a later time.
But in so many ways we’re different, too. The demons of hurt, self-doubt, guilt, and confusion linger just outside our minds, waiting to break in and set fire to our thoughts. I’ve often tried to forget the idea of hoping for it at all: it’s much easier to give something up if you convince yourself you never really wanted it anyway.
Somewhere along the way, though, I turned the idea of having a child into the payoff that waits on the other side of my pain. When I was hurting, I would sometimes think, “This is only for a time. We’re going to get pregnant and the pain won’t matter anymore.” I didn’t totally realize what I was doing until one night where, after recently finding out that one of our closest friends was pregnant, we had another negative pregnancy test. Brooklyn and I were beside ourselves with despondency and jealousy, ready to quit the whole thing. Brooklyn said that she wasn’t sure she even wanted to continue treatments, and that I could never understand how violated her body felt. Of course I couldn’t. But my attempt to reassure her was immature: “I know this is difficult, but just think of the reward having a baby will be.”
Obviously, on some level that’s right. How often does the thought of receiving a reward help us persevere through difficulty? That’s why it’s so easy to think this way, to think that having a child will cure this present wound. But in this case, it might be entirely wrong.
I have no certainty where God is taking us. I don’t know if I will ever be a father, either of a biological child or an adopted one. It’s short-sighted to pacify myself by claiming this is a test of endurance along the path to fatherhood; perhaps, instead, the message I am to receive is “be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). Deep down, I know having a child is not my reward; the abounding love of Jesus Christ is my reward. But I have to fight constantly to maintain this perspective.
That is precisely why I decided to write these words now, when we are still infertile. While I’m still hurting and still wrestle with focusing on the wrong reward. For it is a completely different thing to tell someone walking through infertility, “I know it’s difficult, and I struggle with keeping sight on God, too,” versus, “I know it’s difficult, but all the pain is worth it when you become a parent.” Parenthood might not ever come – for that person, or for Brooklyn and me. The pain might not ever be redeemed for a discernible purpose.
Ultimately, I hope that our experience will touch someone else’s life and let them know it is okay for a Christian to not feel okay. God loves you even while you question him.