Practical advice for family and friends
There are parents who seek to relive their lives vicariously through the lives of their children. These parents tend to make the plans and hope that their children will fall in line. They thus exceed the bounds of wisdom by exerting undue pressure – where to live, what house to buy, what career to pursue, and even when to begin a family. Sometimes, when the plans do not work out as the parents had anticipated, they can vent their frustrations on their offspring. By subtle, and not so subtle, remarks, the children are left feeling that they have not lived up to the expectations of their parents – they are a failure.
The childless couple particularly deserves to be spared these crushing additional burdens; initially, they need help to cope with their disappointment, and then they require on-going support in the days ahead. Sensitivity is required. Careless remarks from would-be grandparents or well-meaning friends can cut deeply, whereas gentle words of encouragement can bring comfort.
A young mother, tragically bereaved of her only child, was asked how she felt when others spoke to her. She found it most painful when people were too embarrassed to mention her loss; she coped better when friends tried to express their sympathy, even if they struggled to find the right words.
Sad and perplexing as the problem of childlessness may be, there is a more serious problem that threatens us all, and yet it seems to generate far less concern – spiritual barrenness. God desires that all of us should mature in our personal relationship with Himself, and that our love and faith should grow and abound. This growth can produce spiritual fruit - a Christ-like character, as well as the joy of having children in the Lord. These aspects of fruit-bearing are open to all believers, whether single or married, parents or childless.
The fruit of growing confidence in God
The trials of life put faith to the test, but those who commit their lives to God and trust Him in the midst of difficulties and disappointments bring much honour to God. We recall that Job sustained economic and social collapse in one catastrophic day when his livestock were either stolen or destroyed, and his ten children were suddenly and tragically killed in a great storm. We marvel at how quickly he resigned himself to God's will when he declared, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1.21).
Childless couples can honour God in the same way when they accept their circumstances and continue to trust Him. He is too wise to make a mistake and too loving to be unkind.
The fruit of Christ-like character in the Spirit
The love, joy, peace, and other qualities listed in Galatians 5 are described as "the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5.22-23). They are just some of the sterling qualities seen pre-eminently in the life of Christ and often reflected in the lives of those who love and follow Him. An increasing likeness to Christ should develop day by day in every believer's life, and in every Christian marriage.
The love that Christ had for His church was a sacrificial love, and husbands who are serious about their responsibilities before God will seek to love their wives in the same way (Eph 5.25). The wife who has suffered disappointment in being unable to bear children stands in need of being treated with gentleness. The husband, too, will appreciate a wife who confirms him in his role as the head of the house, even when there are only the two of them.
The fruit of children in the Lord
The Apostle Paul was a bachelor all of his days but he had many children in the Lord. He referred to Timothy as "my own son in the faith" (1 Tim 1.2). In every town or city he visited he left behind those rejoicing in their newfound faith in Christ. Sadly, we have reached a point in evangelism today when such mutual joy is being forfeited by many Christians who seem to have lost the burning desire to see others converted to Christ. "Leave it to the preachers" is a fatal mistake.
We are all responsible to tell others about the Saviour: by so doing people like the woman of Samaria have become eternally rich in pointing others to Christ. One day, in heaven, she will meet many from her hometown who will be grateful that she was so zealous in testifying to them.
In a similar way we envisage that one day many will rise up and thank God for a couple called Aquila and Priscilla. There is no record in the Word of God of their having children – perhaps they did – but every time they are mentioned in Scripture they are united in purpose and a channel of blessing to many (Rom 16.3-4; 1 Cor 16.19). They shared a love for God, for His Word, His work and His people. Their home was a hospitable place, as Paul and Apollos well knew, and served as a centre where an assembly of Christians could meet.
May the Lord encourage all of us, and especially those godly couples who are childless, to go on bearing much fruit for our Master.
Must I go, and empty-handed?
Must I meet my Saviour so?
Not one soul with which to greet Him:
Must I empty-handed go?
(Charles C Luther)