Boy meets girl, love springs into full bloom and a whole new vista of life floods the mind of the young couple. The excitement of courtship rolls into the joy of marriage. Many plans are made, a house with rooms for children, a yard for children to play in, near enough to a school. Time, time and more time goes by—but no children.
This is the sad plight of many couples in the Truth. Others feel sorry for them, and genuinely so, but the old adage still applies: “If you haven’t been there, you don’t know how rough the path is”. The couple become super-sensitive about their childless situation. Thoughtless comments become daggers thrust deep into their hearts. Thoughtless actions that leave them out of some things become a form of exile. Seeing parents deal with difficult phases in children’s lives and expressing their frustration does not always bring the feeling that childlessness brings blessing; more often it brings the reaction: “Why should they have the children when we would be happy to weather the difficulties?” Desire can be dominating, crowding out other important things, making life unproductive toward God. It is not that they do not try to get a grip of themselves and put direction into their lives. Events over which they have no control repeatedly come as barbs opening up wounds, and they find very little balm for their wounds in their association with their brothers and sisters. In some cases the very tension that builds up becomes in itself a barrier to having children, and the very problem perpetuates itself. Some have been able to bring calm into their lives and after a time have children, but others, though gaining balance in their lives, have still found the marriage unproductive of children. Some through medical assistance have been blessed with children; for others even this is not an option. Adoption can sometimes bring an answer, though the opportunities today are very few.
What are the real major problems that have to be dealt with? How can childless couples build a full and happy life? It can be done, and it is well worth the effort.
There are many facets to the problem, different aspects being prominent in different couples, but the underlying problems are the same. Children are an outlet for the expression of the emotion of love, they are the subject of parental pride, they are the motivating element in the accumulating of many things and in the perpetuating of the family name. Although there are a multitude of ways in which people express the reason for the desire to have children, they all come under these four headings.
Examples from the Past
Abram and Sarai have an interesting lesson for us. In Haran they had been married long enough to know that Sarai could not have children, yet they waited and hoped for another ten years before Sarai decided something had to be done. Knowing that the problem rested with her, and that Abram had shown tremendous faithfulness to her, she manifested the attitude that is the key to success. She did not look inward and bemoan her barrenness, she looked outward to Abram and placed him before herself, suggesting he take Hagar and have children by her. Looking inward increases the problem dramatically, binding a person up in misery and depression. Looking outward finds other ways of expressing love, pride and purpose in life.
Hannah was a classic example of this. Day after day the childless Hannah was tortured by the relentless jibes of the heartless Peninnah, until one day it all changed at the Tabernacle of God. Let us not misunderstand her action; Hannah saw the decline in the ministrations of the priests. She was now looking outward, her concern was for the spiritual well-being of the nation, and the glory of Yahweh. Now when she sought a son it was not for self-gratification, it was for the revival of Yahweh’s purpose. Her heart was turning outward to Yahweh. Yahweh responded, giving her the son that was to set up the school of the prophets, a school through which Yahweh was to repeatedly draw the nation back to Him. Though couples today cannot expect to be involved in such dramatic events, they can learn the lessons of the value of looking outward to Yahweh. There is a joy in working with Yahweh that nothing else can match.
These two examples have been from the woman’s point of view. Let us take one from the man’s standpoint, and who better than the Master himself. As Christ hung on the cross, rejected by his nation and despised by its rulers, humiliated by being stripped of his clothes, his body racked with pain and sorely feeling the absence of the Spirit, he elevated himself above all this by turning his mind outward. The first half of Psalm 22 reveals what he was going through on the cross, the second half manifests the thoughts dwelling on the glories of the future. Also at this time we see him looking down from the cross and seeing his mother who had said to Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word”, still faithful to those words. Recalling the hardness of her life, the early death of Joseph and her dependence on him, her eldest son, whom she was now losing, he arranges for John to look after her. The power here of the outward turning of the mind is tremendous. This truly is the way to meet any situation in life where we feel deprived of things that others enjoy.
Refocusing the Mind
The problem of childlessness is a devastating one; everyone knows how much the heart yearns for children, but it is only those who cannot have them that understand how devastating that can be. Even the single brother or sister can be faced with this terrible prospect. It is a terrible prospect because of the way the desire can take control of the mind, dwelling more and more on the affliction and less and less on other equally vital things, turning the mind ever inward so that things outside themselves diminish in importance, distorting the whole view of life. “There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb….” (Prov 30:15,16). To restore balance there is an urgent need to refocus the mind. Simple to say, difficult to do.
Refocusing the mind is a matter of rechannelling the desires. When the heart finds a way of fulfilling its desires, the mind can again function rationally. There is no formula that answers the need for everyone; we are all different, but there are principles that are universal. The apostle Paul advises how to “renew the spirit of your mind”. Let us not concern ourselves with the matters Paul was dealing with in Ephesians 4:25–32, but rather let us extract the principle he is using. It is a very simple principle—set the focus of the mind outward not inward. Do not centre your sympathy upon yourself, develop compassion for the household of God, become aware of any that have a need, be it a momentary or permanent need. Extend to them the same helping hand you would to a child and your heart will be glad when you see in their eyes the same response you would from a grateful child. Make the ecclesia your family, for in verity it is. Make a point of keeping abreast of events in the mission field. Remember, they are babes that have just been born into your family; they need your love and they have to be fed. You can do this, or at least you can support and encourage those who do. In this way you may bear fruit unto eternal life: in a sense, with the Lord, you may “see” of the travail of your soul, and be satisfied (Isa 53:11). Write to the newly baptised and welcome them into the family of God. To them your letter will be the expression of a parent’s love. They will no longer feel like an orphan but they will feel the warmth and love of being part of a large family. There are opportunities all around you—you only have to turn your attention outward and become aware and concerned of what is happening in the lives of other people and you will be richly blessed.