Fruitless. Late at night, the word attacks my mind and heart. Worse than failure, this word pierces my feminine soul. Worse than the proverbial feeling of insignificance in relationships or at work, I’m approaching thirty with no children. Doesn’t sound bad until you realize I have absolutely no prospects for a husband, and my life consists of work where I’m surrounded by middle school children, women, and old, married men. (Note: All married men are old.) My mom told me to tell my headmaster I’d take over hiring for a while, but I somehow don’t think he’d go for that. The church I attend isn’t any better. It’s a small town, and online dating sounds creepy, and pretentious, and well, desperate. Call me proud, but even when I call to pay a bill or fuss with insurance, I find myself yelling at the recording, “I want to talk to a person!”
Christmas isn’t exactly the appropriate time to contemplate the have-nots, but it happens anyway, even when you try to think about other people. Some women might not care, but I’ve wanted children for a long time. Other than writing, more than writing if I had to pick, that’s all I’ve wanted. In high school, I would sketch on scrap paper things I wanted to teach my children with the kind of detail most girls give to planning their wedding. In college, friends teased me for thinking and talking about pregnancy so much.
I’m not as vocal anymore. In fact, I find myself wondering if I should hold back when I see someone else’s baby, because as soon as I hold it in my arms, I know I’ll say what must seem so ridiculous, and God forbid, pretentious, to those around me: “I want one.”
And then I get a few gentle laughs and a big hint of what I need to do to make that happen, though none of that seems to be in my control right now.
The past couple of years, I’ve actually become more embarrassed to fully express my desire for children. Partly because it automatically leads to the subject of marriage—for which I have no affirmative answers, which makes other people feel awkward. It’s like you have cancer or something if you’re single after say, twenty-two. Living in a small town where people tend to marry by the end of college, I’m already at the age in which people are popping out babies like they’re God’s Pez dispensers.
Some might say I shouldn’t even worry about children at twenty-eight, especially when I’m not married. I won’t say “in the next stage of life,” because that’s starting to frustrate the snot out of me. As if you don’t graduate to the next level of God-given maturity until you attain a spouse or a kid. Apparently singles are nothing more than overgrown children, whether twenty-five, forty-five, or sixty-five? There’s only one “next level” God has for everybody? I realize that’s not the intent of those who use the phrase, and I agree our culture tends to be too easily offended about many things, but I also think the phrases we commonly use can reveal something about our perspectives, perspectives we may not have realized we held. Myself included.
So, in addition to feeling embarrassed to the point of contemplating curbing my public affection for infants, the past few years I’ve opted for the more upbeat and even sassy approach to the singleness question because it’s so darn frustrating to deal with: people really do say the stupidest things, and you can’t be too hard on them, but, again, I don’t like eulogies when I’m not dead, so a bit of wit (okay, stinging sarcasm) seems to be the best remedy. People are quieter, but I’m also getting older, and even those who used to say, “God’s got somebody for you,” (as if He actually told them) either say it much quieter or not at all. Whether because they’ve given up or I’ve shut them up I guess we’ll never know.
But married or not, the desires and fears are still there. And whether what I’ve read a few times about a woman’s fertility in relation to her age are true or not–yes, yes, plead Sarah all you want–the fact is, this Christmas, it seems the one thing I want, is the one thing that isn’t happening, and there’s no hope in sight that it will. This Christmas I curl up with the cat and watch other people’s children run around smiling, laughing, and hugging. No jealously, but sadness does creep in with the joy. The sadness of longing.
Selfish? No one tells the married childless woman that. I usually tell even God I don’t want to talk about it, but this is one of those times in which I go ahead and ask Him:
“Why would You give me this desire in the first place? Surely it isn’t just to dangle in front of me? I know You aren’t obligated to tell, that I’ll be okay either way, but why can’t you just take this desire away if You aren’t going to fulfill it? Am I that foolish, that wrong? It’s not that I think I’m worthy, I know there are much better people out there. But good grief, You give children to all kinds of people, just like You allow it seems like anybody, even Hitler, to get married.”
And right as I try to figure out what’s wrong with me, why I might have to earn a husband or baby first when I know no one else has, I realize that, husband and baby or not, it doesn’t matter.
God has given me a baby. He is that baby. It doesn’t take away the emptiness, pain, or questions, but it does provide a calm.
The most obvious is sometimes the most profound and comforting: Christmas is all about a baby. God is fruitful for me. People talk of letting Jesus be their lover, right now I need Him to be my baby. She who may not ever have children, may not ever have a husband, has Christ, the Baby born to all of us. She who is fruitless has a child, and not only that, but all God’s fruitfulness, all His grace to cover her inadequacies.
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
ESV Study Bible. Crossway. 2008.