Many people experiencing infertility turn to their faith for comfort and hope. We find strength and solace in Holy Scriptures and in the prayers of fellow believers, and regular church attendance provides us with the spiritual foundation to get through tough times. Yet many infertiles have found that the Church’s focus on family and children makes it very difficult to attend.
I don’t think anyone believes that the emphasis the Church has on families and children is wrong. Parents need support and guidance as they raise their children in the faith. However, the isolation that many infertile people feel in church often leads to inconsistent attendance or leaving the Church all together. During the toughest weeks and months of my own battle with infertility, I stayed home on Sundays more often than I went to church. It was just too painful.
The theme of this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week is #StartAsking. I think it’s time we start asking how to increase infertility awareness and support in the Church. Maybe my suggestions below aren’t the best, but unless we start asking the questions, we cannot come up with better solutions.
How can the church support people experiencing infertility?
- Pastors and clergy can educate themselves on the basics of infertility and the ethical questions that treatment often brings. It’s not very helpful to ask your pastor for spiritual guidance if he or she doesn’t understand the physical and biological basics of the disease and treatments.
- The Church can acknowledge (especially during holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day) that people experiencing infertility, miscarriage, child loss, and childlessness exist in the congregation. Sometimes the mere act of someone saying, “We see you. You are an important part of our congregation,” can make a world of difference.
- Instead of offering reasons why our prayers for children haven’t been answered, encourage us to fix our eyes on Jesus and His goodness. I do believe that unanswered prayers can be the result of sin in our lives. But I also believe that sometimes God’s reasons for not answering our prayers like we want Him to have nothing to do with sin. His plans for us are good, yet they are beyond what we can understand. People facing infertility need to be reminded of this often.
- Be willing and able to provide attendees with outside referrals. In a perfect world, every church would have a program or support group for members experiencing infertility. But that’s not realistic for many, if most, churches. However, I don’t think it would be unrealistic for each church to be armed with a list of resources (both online and local / in-person) for people who need it. The list could include support groups, counselors / therapists, books, websites, and doctors.
- Talk about infertility from the pulpit. In 2015, just before we started our 3rd IVF cycle, my husband and I spoke about our infertility story in the church where I grew up. We were so honored to share how God strengthened us during our journey, and also to bring some encouragement and solidarity to anyone in the congregation who might be going through similar circumstances. It was intimidating and a little bit scary, but we’re so glad we did it. And I’m so proud to come from a church who wanted to acknowledge and encourage its members who were struggling.
- Make sure women’s ministry events don’t revolve around motherhood. I recently went to a women’s Bible study that was supposed to be a talk on the topic of “influence.” It turned out to be a study on the influence that mothers have. I was seated at a table with women of all ages. The leader, a pregnant mother of five, asked us all to introduce ourselves by saying our names and how many children we had. My heart broke when we got to a lady who looked to be in her late 50s. She quietly said, “I always wanted children, but it never happened for me.” The assumption that all women attending a women’s ministry event have children is not okay. Leaders need to be trained to be aware and sensitive to this fact.
Infertility affects people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A church that is supportive, welcoming, and encouraging to its members who are suffering from it has the potential to be one of the key factors in a person’s ability to thrive (not just survive) during infertility.
But in order for that to happen, we must first start asking.
What would you like to start asking of the Church in regards to infertility? Please feel free to comment below.
Update 5/5/16: After publishing this post, I came across this WONDERFUL video from RBC Ministries that blogger Sheridan Voysey shared. He writes, “Originally filmed as a live webinar for church leaders, this hour-long video explores the isolation, emotions and ethical challenges faced by an infertile couple.” I HIGHLY RECOMMEND church leaders take the time to view this video.
If you’re looking for more encouragement during infertility, be sure to check out my book, 31 Days of Prayer During Infertility.