Friday, March 16, 2007

Family Ties

On the Hannah's Prayer Community Forums I am posting monthly devotionals based on various chapters of Hannah's Hope. Here's the first. You may read through the full series of these devotionals here.

The following is copyrighted material and has been adapted from "Family Ties," chapter one of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage, & Adoption Loss by Jennifer Saake, NavPress, 2005. Please do not duplicate without permission. You may read this chapter in its entirety here.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. - Genesis 1:27, 31 (NIV)

To raise children was Hannah's occupation of choice, with no back up plan arranged. When grown-up reality didn't measure up, her definition of family, her very understanding of life itself, was shaken to the core.
In her book The Ache for a Child*, Debra Bridwell explains the devastation this way:

God had the desire to create new life; and He wanted to create it in His own image. If He, being perfect and complete had this desire to create, how could it be selfish or wrong? And because He created us in His image, with many of His attributes, it should come as no surprise that we share His desire to create.
If we yearn to take part in the miracle of creating a new life "in our image" with attributes like our own, and want the intimacy of nurturing our child to maturity, that is only natural. This yearning is God-given and a part of how we are created. It's no wonder that we can feel jarred and confused when we are unable to fulfill it.

One of God's first instructions to the human race was to be fruitful and multiply. Scripture speaks highly of the role of parenthood. If children are a mark of God's blessing, what does infertility mean? Questions seem to mount much faster than answers...

Shortly after I began planning to write Hannah's Hope Julie Donahue (co-founder of Hannah's Prayer Ministries) challenged me to read through my entire Bible, looking for every passage that could in any way, directly or indirectly, relate to infertility. The adventure took fourteen months. There were times when the study seemed to painful to continue - so many passages were laced with generational records. I would pray:

Lord, one of my greatest fears is that our family tree will stop growing here. I don't want to be an old stump, cut off and cast away. The psalmist wrote, "Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table" [Psalm 128:3]. Father, reading of your faithfulness to countless generations serves only to discourage me more. You were faithful to them - what about us? Will my husband ever have a "fruitful" wife? Will our family tree ever produce new shoots? These passages carefully explaining who begat whom, all the way back to Adam, are very painful for me.

If we climb through the branches of Hannah's family tree, we see that the Jewish nation had a tentative start. Infertility took center stage in God's account of history and the establisment and continuation of the Isralites often seemed in question. Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah ninety when their child of promise was finally born (Gen. 17:17). Isaac, in turn, prayed for his barren wife, Rebekah, before God placed twins within her womb (Gen. 25:21). One of those boys, Jacob, also went on to taste fertiltiy challenges. While he had twelve sons, only two came from his beloved wife, Rachel, who struggled through years of infertility, both primary and secondary.

I've often wondered if Rachel's first son, Joseph, might also have battled to become a father. The Bible records only two sons for him, something rare in an age without birth control, when a large family was a sign of prestige. When this beloved son of Jacob chose to name his second son Ephraim, he pronounced, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering" (Gen. 41:52). I find it ironic that Hannah's story is stages in the the hill country of Ephraim, the land of the "twice fruitful."

Realizing that her ancestors had also known her pain might have offered Hannah great comfort. But these same stories could have just as easily added to her burden and grief. Imagine Hannah's growing grief as she began to realize that those evenings of passion shared with her sweetheart were not producing within her womb the expected results. Her quandry gives new depth of meaning to Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." But even when it seemed God was silent to her cries, when she felt outcast and rejected by both God and man, she knew where to turn in her questioning and pain and this is what we much learn to do as well.

But I cry to you for help, O LORD: in the morning my prayer comes before you. Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
Psalm 88:13-14 (NIV)

I look forward to sharing devotional time with you on the first Monday of each month. This month we have set the stage and can relate to what Hannah was feeling. Next month we will begin to explore how to cope with this anguish we all know so deeply. If there are portions of the book that have especially ministered to you, please leave your comments as I will be visiting often in selecting passages for future devotionals. May the Lord grant us each grace and peace as we pursue hard after Him for the healing of our deepest hurts.

*quote from Debra Bridwell, The Ache for a Child (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994), p. 27

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