We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24 NRSV).
Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah, Hannah, Elizabeth – Scripture denotes these women as “barren.” The word’s harshness forces the us feel its precise meaning. It is a cruel adjective for any woman that has experienced infertility. Yet these women all became mothers, and Scripture is clear that God orchestrated their pregnancies and birth. Each of these six women, or their husbands, were visited by a divine messenger that promised them a child. At least two of these women were post-menopausal. “Barren” cruelly declares that their wombs are, in effect, dead. God had long since turned away from their pain. At least that’s how it felt.
God did see these women and knew their pain. He visited them each with promises that they would conceive and birth a child. Sex, however, is an unmentioned part of their faith both in Scriptures and in our paraphrased retellings. Sarah is the lone women that mentioned this double entendre, After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I again have pleasure? Each of these women received a promise, but then they, with their husbands, had to take a step of faith. They received the promise then had to risk believing, even a little, that it might be true.
We use the language of “trying” to encapsulate this hope of conceiving. It’s our tidy way of say that we are closely monitoring our menstrual cycles, ovulation patterns, and taking our temperatures to find that golden moment to have sex. “Trying” sterilizes the hopes and tears and disappointments. It excludes the doctor visits and tests and injections and hormones and medical procedures when we have been “trying” for too long. Once we have monitored and controlled every element we can, it is time for the moment of hope. Ultimately, we cannot control what our body will accept or reject. So we try. Then we wait, tingling with hope. Hoping that hope does not leave us empty.
Everything about childbearing is uncertain hope. Some hope to conceive, then we hope to birth healthy children, we hope they thrive, we hope that they will be unharmed, we hope they will not die before we do. We hope, we hope, we hope. Childbearing requires us to live in this vulnerability. Some children are never conceived, some do not live, some are devastatingly injured, some do not thrive. We walk with charges we will ultimately have to release to walk into their own futures that may be filled with all manner of malice. We hope that the ones we love will be safe and well. We try, we try, we try to make our hopes reality. But childbearing hope is uncertain. It can be painful and cruel. Like Sarah, we bitterly mock back at its unfairness.
Nevertheless six barren women “tried” then waited until tingles of hope turned into tingles of tiny limbs twitching in their bellies. Those wombs so coldly described as “barren” now teemed with life. Perhaps their hope questioned, perhaps that step of faith was uncertain, but these fears were empty while their hope was full. God does not renege on his promises. The hope he gives, as it turns out, is the only certain hope.
When we pin our faith upon uncertain things, our faith will be empty and disappointed. We cannot trust God to fulfill promises he did not make. Hope in in the unseen, Paul says. Hope that what is now unseen will one day be seen. A childbearer knows the fear of the unseen. The Christian knows hope of the unseen.
Perhaps God did not promise me that I would have children. Then he did not my children will always be safe and well. He did not promise me health, wealth, or even just breaking even. He did not promise me that my hopes will be true and my nightmares false. I cannot have faith that God will do things he did not say he would do. I cannot trust in promises never made.
God promised writhing. He promised me I would wait in this writhing until joy was born. He promised that a Redeemer would end the writhing of the Fall. He promised me baptism by the Spirit and New Life. He promised me that a New Kingdom is being birthed. He gave a picture by which that mystery of our faith might be understood. A childbearer writhes. She is caught by love and by hope. Her work will not be done until her cry calls her joy home. She lives in the hope that all this pain is worth it. The hope that all this love is worth it.
Christ, the Childbearer, of the world of whom we Christians testify Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again, writhes with us for he bears us with love. He has deemed us worth it.
 Genesis18:1-15; Genesis 25:21; Genesis 30:22-24; Judges 13:2; I Samuel 1:1-5; Luke 1:5-25