At some point throughout your infertility journey, perhaps you’ve reflected on or have been pointed to Sarah and Abraham’s story in the Bible (mainly Genesis chapters 11 through 23).
When I share my story with others, oftentimes the first encouragement I hear is of Sarah and Abraham’s infertility. You may find it interesting that this never brought me much comfort. Back then, to me it seemed miracles like theirs were few and far between. It seemed that I could not relate to their lives. It felt like that time and culture was so distant and removed. And in some instances, it felt like some people offered this story as a Christian ‘quick fix’. Ex: “If Sarah can have a child at 90, you still have hope!” “Look at Sarah and Abraham! God gave them a child after waiting for decades!”
Now, please don’t get me wrong — people meant well, but I felt frustrated that the conversations generally never progressed past the “if elderly folks can get pregnant, so can you” gist.
Friend, Sarah and Abraham’s testimony to us goes so far beyond “being old and having children.” To appreciate their story, we must go back to Scripture and take notice of other elements in order to strengthen our entire walk with Christ. We cannot simply focus on Sarah’s infertility. When we do this, we discredit the additional works, miracles, and provisions of the Lord as He speaks to us today through their story. Abraham and Sarah are both recognized for their great faith in Scripture, but their sin, failures, and relatable shortcomings are also recorded for our benefit. Let’s take a closer look!
Feeling the Pressure
In Old Testament times, having large families was encouraged and celebrated. The culture saw children as the “primary contribution” that a woman made to marriages.*
As if the culture hadn’t put enough heat on them, God commanded Abraham to leave his country and all he had known to “make offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Genesis 13:16). No pressure, right?! Just imagine the fear, the weight, the anxiety, and the isolation bearing down on them.
Infertility in 2016 mirrors similar feelings. Soon after couples are married, it is implied or assumed that they will have children. When a man or woman are unable to naturally conceive, the pressure can become unbearable. A woman’s infertile body tempts her to believe that she’s an incomplete and incompetent woman. Similarly, a man’s infertility makes him feel like less of a man. The pressure clouds our focus, making it easy to question our identity and God’s plan.
Doubt & Disbelief
Do you know of any 90-year-old couples that have recently bore children? Neither have I. Because modern-day culture hasn’t given much hope for the elderly having children, it seems hard to relate to Sarah and Abraham. Granted, Abraham laughed when God spoke to him: “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'” (Genesis 17:17) So even he knew back in the day that their advanced age was laughable, and seemingly impossible.
Doubt and disbelief are well-known deceivers in a Believer’s life. In our sin and flawed humanity, we start believing that we are irrelevant to God, that we are insignificant, that we know best what’s possible and impossible. And when life doesn’t pan out the way we want, we doubt, we resent. It’s clear that both Sarah and Abraham didn’t truly believe in the Lord’s promises to them; and that tempted them to take matters into their own hands …
Impatience, Impulse, & Jealousy
How often are our lives turned upside down when our expectations and plans are unmet by the Lord? In Old Testament times, it was acceptable in that culture for a husband to sleep with his servant to produce children. (If a wife couldn’t bear a child, social custom encouraged her to give her maid to her husband as a kind of surrogate.*) But this decision was life-altering for Sarah and Abraham. Even though the Lord warned Abraham that his servant’s child wouldn’t be his heir (Genesis 15:2-5), Abraham still jumped at the opportunity and had his first child Ishmael through his servant Hagar.
Though Sarah was motivated by her love for Abraham and her desire for him to have a son, “sharing” her husband with another woman would’ve been one of the most sacrificial and tormenting things she could do. But this sin of impulse changed their marriage.
Hagar’s pride in conceiving Ishmael caused to her to feel superior to and despise Sarah. Guilt, fear, anger, jealousy pushed Sarah to blame Abraham for everything, even when it was her idea: “Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering.'” (Genesis 16:5) Sarah’s bitterness and resentment eventually led her to mistreat Hagar, and Hagar fled. Notably, Abraham should have stepped up to Sarah’s sin, but instead told her to handle the problem herself. The husband/wife roles shifted dramatically and painfully because they believed they could be the solution to their own problems.
The Good News: Nothing is too Hard for the Lord!
From this story comes one of the most encouraging verses in all Scripture (in my opinion), when the Lord says to Abraham regarding why Sarah laughed in disbelief: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:13)
Sarah’s womb was eventually blessed, and she conceived Isaac (whose name translated to “he laughs”). At Isaac’s birth, Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me … Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:6-7)
Friend, Sarah became the mother to the nation of Israel — kind of a big deal! Isaac would father Jacob. Jacob would father 12 sons who would become heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah would come David, and finally Jesus Christ, God’s promised Savior. Whew! Quite the fulfillment!
The Lord didn’t give up on Sarah and Abraham, even amongst their rebellion. He waited for them to come back to Him — and He established a lasting covenant that benefits you and me today! That’s how much He cares!
I want to encourage you today to not see Sarah and Abraham’s story as: “If I wait long enough, God will get me pregnant, God will give me a child.” Look at their testimony in terms of your entire life as a redeemed child of God, to say: “God fulfills His promises to His people, and that includes me. He may not answer my prayer when I want, or how I want, but every gift from Him is perfect and good. In my rebellion and lack of trust, He is sovereign. I’m not the first seemingly impossible situation God has ever handled. I can be a miracle, too!”
Because nothing is impossible with God,
* represents: Taken from commentary notes in my Bible (NIV Quest Study Bible, 2003)