The scene is burned into my memory. It’s been fifteen years, but I remember the day I began to doubt God’s love for me.
It was a Sunday. It was that window of fellowship after church just before people start heading home for lunch and naps. I stood in a circle of women, listening to the cadence of feminine voices chatter and catch up on life.
The talk quickly turned to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and a whole host of other maternity and baby-related topics I couldn’t identify with. I looked around the circle and realized nearly every woman in the group was in one stage of pregnancy or another. It looked like a commercial for prenatal vitamins.
I hadn’t told anyone we were having trouble getting pregnant. The sting of my inability to contribute to the discussion stained my cheeks with embarrassment and crept into my heart with bitterness. I slowly backed out of the big-bellied circle and headed for the exit before anyone could see my tears.
From that day forward, my life was marked by the humiliation and grief of infertility. I spent the next decade fighting the ever-rising specter of bitterness whenever I spent time with friends or participated in church functions. No matter where I went, I felt isolated by my barrenness.
While I hoped, lost hope, resurrected hope, and lost hope again, my friends got married, had babies, had more babies, and completed their families.
Infertility ruled my life. I measured time by how long we’d been trying to conceive, living my life in two-week increments. I watched everyone I knew live out my dream of motherhood, and I could not understand why God would love me less than He loved them.
Hope Deferred Does Not Equal Love Deferred
Up until that first negative pregnancy test, I thought that the blessings of my life were indicative of God’s love for me. I’d never struggled with much that couldn’t be easily mended, so when the first deferred hope of my life presented itself with years of longing for what I couldn’t have, I assumed it was because God didn’t love me.
Here’s the problem with that: allowing our circumstances to name the character of God means we’re creating God in our own image and building our theology on shifting sand. Circumstances change; God does not.
Living with trials or heartaches does not mean that God’s character changes with the course of your life. Our hearts are categorically deceptive, as the Lord tells us in the book of Jeremiah: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 CSB) Deciding what is true about God by looking at physical, tangible gifts is a shaky foundation for our faith.
About five years into my relationship with infertility, bitterness became my undoing. I lost friends, I quit attending functions that made me feel isolated, and worst of all—I could not find affection for the Lord. I’d always had a vibrant walk with Christ, but His persistent withholding of children made me question why I was even following Him.
With more grace than I could ever merit, the Holy Spirit prompted me to turn to the Word. I yearned for a resolution to my heartache and if it would never end with a baby, I didn’t know where else to turn. With a notebook, a pen, and my Bible, I determined to understand how God loved me – if He really loved me at all.
I began with the book of Isaiah, which admittedly was a strange place to start. I wrote down every phrase that told me something about God’s character. From Isaiah I moved to John, then the Psalms. My notebook turned into a stack of notebooks as my comprehension of who God is and how He loved me stretched and expanded beyond any understanding I’d previously held.
This was a big, kind, sovereign, good, faithful, holy, just, merciful, gracious God. And if He was withholding something from me, it was because He had purpose in so doing. It definitely was not because He didn’t love me. His manner of love looks far different than the permissive, self-gratifying kind of love I thought I needed.
It wasn’t wrong for me to desire to have children, but it was wrong to decide that God didn’t love me in the absence of them.
How God Really Loves You
Let me lovingly tell you from my own experience: it is anti-gospel to equate your unmet desires with the level of God’s love for you. Your infertility, singleness, widowhood, chronic illness, recurrent miscarriages, broken marriage, dysfunctional family—none of this is evidence of a God who decided He loves you a bit less than the rest of His children.
Don’t let the things you lack tell you whether or not God loves you. Look to the gospel for your consolation, for that is where real hope lives.
The proof of God’s love for you rests in the fact that He chose to save you before a particle of matter existed (Ephesians 1:4-6). Before there was a sun or a moon or a human being, God had already planned to send Jesus to die in your place for your rebellion to God. He had planned for your rescue before you existed and needed rescue. While you were far off, He had planned to bring you near (Ephesians 2:13). When you were dead in your sins, He made you alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).
This is the love of God: that He sent Jesus to become a propitiation for our sins when we did not love Him (1 John 4:9-10). This is what it is to be loved by God: we are called His children (1 John 3:1).
When the longings of our hearts are not met in the ways we desire, our consolation must be anchored in biblical love. Here it is: God loved us by sending Jesus when we refused to think we needed Him. It was a preemptive love, a love that answers our heart’s deepest need for reconciliation to God and pays for our sin against Him.
The apostle Paul tells us that God has given us “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3). We’re not missing anything if God has given us every spiritual blessing. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians that when we understand the Lord’s love, we are “filled with the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
If this is how God loves us—by providing for our rescue before we even existed—then allowing our circumstances to measure that love will always give us false information. The right answer to any question of God’s love is to go to the Word.
The Bible is God’s chosen means of revelation, how He chose to make Himself known to us. If you want to know Him, if you want to know for sure that He has loved you faithfully, then let Him speak for Himself, and take Him at His Word.
When you see Him in the all the beautiful, immeasurable ways He has revealed Himself in Scripture, you will begin to see your circumstances in light of His good character.
Loss can drive you to His generous mercy.
Loneliness can be met by His constant presence.
Betrayal can be answered by His faithfulness.
Longing can teach you to treasure the Giver rather than the gift.
Viewing your life through the lens of God’s biblically-defined character will set you free from bitterness when your troubles are outlined with God’s goodness.
One Good, Faithful God
Years later, I did become a mom. Twice actually, and not in the way I expected. All these years removed from my anguish, it’s easy to see the many ways God was good in saying “no” to my pleas for children.
I am thankful for the years of barrenness because God used them to teach me about His faithfulness. He heard my desires to be a mother and turned my heart toward the grace He has given me in Christ. A gospel lens helps us to see God rightly and to submit to His plans for our lives, even the ones that are difficult to endure. It is a beautiful mercy to find that all your longings are met in one good, faithful God.
Glenna Marshall is married to her pastor, William, and lives in rural Southeast Missouri where she tries to keep up with her two energetic sons. Glenna is the author of The Promise is His Presence (P&R, 2019). You can connect with her at glennamarshall.com where she writes about suffering, biblical literacy, and God’s faithfulness.