Pamela R. Durso. Pam is the Executive Director of Baptist Women in Ministry.
I remember all too clearly the day we “found out.” I remember exactly where we were when we heard the news, and it was not good. We were told that there was a remote possibility, at best, that biological children would be part of our future. Keith and I were just months away from getting married when we got that phone call. When I think about that day, even now, twenty-seven years later, the pain and tears sometimes rush back to greet me just as they did the very first time that I heard the news. Infertility was a very real and very painful threat to my hopes and dreams of becoming a parent, and I was left feeling vulnerable, angry, and confused.
My experience has shaped my so many parts of my life, including my reading of scripture. I find myself drawn to biblical texts that feature “barren” women, and there seem to be a disproportional number of women struggling with infertility in the Old Testament. So many Hebrew women, like me, knew what it was like to live with the pain of not being able to have a child.
Genesis 16 tells story of one such woman: Sarah, the wife of Abraham, in this chapter of Genesis is a woman still without a child. She is living in a wilderness, empty and alone, and there seems to be no one who can bring her comfort or end her misery. Even God seems far away for the promises that God made to Abraham about their having a son are still unfulfilled. I can just imagine the questions Sarah asked: So where is this child? Will there ever really be a baby?
Instead of a baby, Sarah has a marriage that is tense and unsettled, and her relationship with God is full of unspoken anger and resentment. Living with that kind of pain and hurt can drive a person to words of desperation, and in Genesis 16:2, we find Sarah crying out. She confronts her husband and says “The LORD has kept me from having children.”
Sarah’s lays the blame for her infertility fully on God—she believes it is God who has closed her womb, prevented her from conceiving, and she screams out her pain, verbalizing her feelings of abandonment. God has left her. God has turned against her. This God who had made grand promises has not fulfilled any of those promises.
There is much more to Sarah’s story. It becomes much more complicated and chaotic, but we know how it ends. Eventually, Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. Yet it is this Sarah in Genesis 2 that speaks loudest to me, this vulnerable, brokenhearted woman who is searching for relief from grief, heartache, and loss. Knowing the Sarah of Genesis 2 and knowing the end of her story tells me this: while Sarah may have felt that God was very far away from her, God was in reality always with her, even in her deepest grief, even in her loneliest wilderness. God never turned away from or deserted her—even as Sarah turned against God, God was there.
Sarah’s story offers me assurance that in my moments of deepest pain, in my times of greatest vulnerability, on my darkest days, I can cry out in honesty to God. I can take my questions, my anger, and my pain and speak them aloud to God. I don’t have to mask my feeling or hide my hostility. I can scream out even as Sarah did, “The Lord has caused this.”
And I can rest in the knowledge that God is there. God is there in the shadows of my life, in my darkest places, in my wilderness. God is there when I feel alone. God is there in my wilderness of despair. Even when I cannot trust God, even when I cannot sense God’s presence, even when I blame God for the injustices of life, God never turns away. God is with me.