When we don’t understand God’s ways.
by Marlo Schalesky
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. . . .” It’s such a simple song. I learned it as a child and sang it probably a thousand times. I never thought to doubt it, until a few short years ago. After all, God’s love was the first thing I learned about in church, the most basic element of faith. So why did I, a Christian for twenty years, suddenly have my doubts?
It was my thirty-fifth birthday. Thirty-five is a milestone of sorts, when all the good statistics for pregnancy decrease while the bad ones take a giant leap forward. Of course, I’d always planned to have a house full of children by the time I was thirty-five, so the stats weren’t going to matter. But my plans obviously weren’t the same as God’s.
I would have liked to spend the day huddled in a corner with my tears, but my husband, Ted, planned a small party for me instead. Balloons were attached to the banister, a candle-laden cake sat on the table, and next to it lay a stack of party hats and whistles. It all looked so cheerful, so bright, so it-doesn’t-matter-that-I’m-thirty-five-and-still-don’t-have-children. The least I could do was swallow my depressing thoughts and pretend to have a good time.
Soon, our friends came.
“Happy birthday, old lady,” Wayne grinned as he stepped through the doorway and deposited a package on the end table. After him came Sue, Lisa, Sam, and finally my best friend, Lynn.
“How are you doing?” Lynn whispered as she gave me a hug. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”
“I’m, uh, okay,” I murmured back. “What’s one more year?” I willed my voice to remain steady.
The rest of the party was uneventful. I made my wish — not to spit all over the cake — and blew out the candles. I groaned appropriately when I opened a few gag gifts from the others: the little-old-lady cane from Sue and Wayne; the bottle of Geritol from Lisa; the extra-large-print Bible from Lynn and Sam. I told a few jokes and cut an especially big piece of chocolate cake for Wayne, since he’d been caught sneaking a piece early at the last party we’d all been to. I smiled at all the right times and laughed when I was supposed to.
On the outside, I appeared to be holding myself together. But all the while, I felt my heart breaking a little more every minute. With each gift I opened, with each candle that sent a thin wisp of smoke curling toward the ceiling, with each “old lady” joke I endured, I came closer to the realization that my hopes for a child would most likely never become reality.
As the evening drew to a close, I gathered up the cake plates and took them into the kitchen. I set them near the sink, then lowered my head.
“Hey, are you okay? What’s up?”
I turned to see Lynn, with her hands full of the remaining cake dishes, behind me.
“I’m thirty-five today,” I answered, as if that should explain everything.
Lynn looked at me for a moment, then set her dishes next to mine. “It’s the baby thing, isn’t it?”
Lynn began scraping leftover frosting from the dishes into the garbage. “Infertility can be a real surprise,” she murmured at last. “I really thought you’d get pregnant right away. I can’t believe it’s taken so long.”
“Why has it taken so long?” My voice grew softer. “Does God hate me or something?”
Lynn didn’t answer. Instead, she just kept scraping away and piling the empty dishes on the counter.
A harsh laugh escaped my lips. “Ted and I were so stupid,” I grumbled. “We kept thinking that God would surely bless us soon. ‘Any month now,’ we’d say, believing that we’d soon be rejoicing and thanking God and that all the doubts, all the pain, would be behind us.” I snorted and shook my head.
Lynn sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
“So am I. I just don’t understand why God won’t bless me.”
Lynn frowned. “I wish I had some answers for you, but I don’t. I know you’ve been faithful. I know you’ve delighted yourself in Him. So why you’re still childless is a mystery to me.”
“Maybe all that stuff about God loving us is really just a bunch of garbage,” I stated.
“You know that’s not true.”
Silence invaded the kitchen as Lynn turned and looked at me for a long moment. She didn’t say a word. Instead, she looped the dishtowel over the hook then came toward me. Gently, she put her arms around me and drew me close. Eventually, she spoke. “I know it’s hard. Doubts are normal when you’ve been through as much as you have. But one thing I know: God loves you. And I love you, too.”
Lynn held me close as her words settled in my heart. I was not alone.
I remembered all the times she had gone down to the altar with me, prayed for me, wept with me. Whatever else I doubted, one thing I knew: Lynn cared. Her care, her concern, showed me God’s love in a tangible way, in a way I couldn’t disregard. She made God real to me there in the kitchen, when my doubts raged hotter than thirty-five birthday candles, when my heart weighed more than a dozen chocolate cakes — God, who suffered and died for me because He loves me.
Contemplating the cross
Over the next several weeks, I thought about Christ on the cross. For once, I didn’t rush past His death to the joy of His resurrection, as I’d always done in the past. Before I never wanted to contemplate the cross — only the empty tomb. It was the same, I realized, with my infertility. I never wanted to truly face it. Instead, I always tried to rush ahead to the prospect of having a baby. I thought that if I just believed strongly enough, I’d never have to face the hurt, the loss.
But God had forced me to pause, to consider the cost of the cross. The cross meant pain, shame, and suffering. The empty tomb, however, meant joy and fulfillment. But one doesn’t come without the other. Suffering, I discovered, is a part of life. Sorrow is a partner on the path to Christlikeness. God’s priority is our relationship — knowing Him, His sorrow and suffering, as well as His joy. And if that were the case, I could no longer use my happiness as a measure of God’s love.
In the four years since my thirty-fifth birthday, I’ve come to accept the idea that sometimes things just don’t make sense. The cross didn’t make sense to those who watched Jesus die. It was a strange demonstration of love. But in hindsight, we understand the sacrifice, the love that held Christ on the cross.
So perhaps someday I’ll look back on these painful years of infertility and see there, as well, the marks of God’s love for me. For now, though, I can only look to the cross and remember Jesus, too, knows what it means to hurt. I can only look into the eyes of those in whom He lives and see that He loves me.
Used with permission from Empty Womb, Aching Heart by Marlo Schalesky. 2001 Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Marlo Schalesky is the author of three books: Cry Freedom and Freedom’s Shadow (Crossway Books) and Empty Tomb, Aching Heart – Hope and Help for Those Struggling with Infertility (Bethany House). She has also had over 400 articles published in a variety of Christian magazines. Marlo is currently working on her third novel while working on her master’s degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. She lives in Gilroy, CA, with her husband, Bryan.
Find out more about Marlo on her Web site: http://www. marloschalesky.com.