Forty days in the desert of infertility
Is there anything that more closely resembles the journey of infertility than the season of Lent? 40 long days alone in the desert, being denied comfort and support as we are tempted by Satan to go against God's word and teachings. Even if you know there is salvation at the end, it can easily feel as if you will never get through to see it.
I met my husband on Ash Wednesday in 2017. We had both joined a young adult small group looking for answers and guidance during a period of upheaval in our lives. Over the course of those six weeks together, we bonded over using humor as a coping mechanism and fought about pretty much everything else. We began dating on Easter Sunday, an appropriate time for new love and new beginnings. In 2018, after another Lenten period of discernment, we became engaged shortly after Easter. Despite initial plans to marry in the summer, we held our wedding the day before Palm Sunday and walked into Holy Week 2019 as husband and wife. That Easter vigil marked both one week married and, liturgically, our two year dating anniversary.
I saw this recurring theme of the Easter season as a sign of God's blessing and the beautiful fruits to come for our family. Unfortunately, my idea of what that would look like didn't align with God's. How often is that the case? You have the perfect plan and things seem to be going exactly as you had imagined them... until they aren't. It turns out I should have been more focused on Lent than Easter. I was skipping ahead as we often do and perhaps I needed the reminder to slow down and walk through the desert with God.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the Lent a year into our marriage was a combination of infertility and pandemic lockdowns. After a year of trying to conceive, we were struggling heavily with the "not yet" that we hadn't expected when we began trying to grow our family. Growing our family felt like something that should come easily - after all, weren't we living out God's will by being open to life? The thing about openness is that we really only see it one way, don't we? We are open to abundant blessings in the form of babies! We were less open, however, to the possibility of no babies at all. Easter 2020 came and went without a positive pregnancy test and I felt betrayed. Wasn't this season of hardship supposed to be redeemed at the end? I felt so sure that was what God was trying to tell me and yet the months continued to roll by.
"Then God remembered Rachel. God listened to her and made her fruitful."
God remembered Rachel: had God forgotten me? Was He not listening? It was so easy to become focused on this one thing he was denying me that all I could see around us was desert. That year, 2020, was an endless Lent in so many ways. And yet there was so much good happening in our lives: we became stronger as a couple; we worked hard on our communication skills and created a daily rhythm that prioritized prayer and quality time; my husband went through some radical health changes and I finally made my own much-needed lifestyle changes. We arrived at Holy Week 2021 in a better place as a family than we had been that first week of our marriage. We were leaning heavily on our faith as well as each other, and that three-legged support was holding strong. Another Easter came and went without a baby.
The world opened back up again and we stopped waiting to "become" a family to do things. We learned and traveled and celebrated together. On our second wedding anniversary, just after Easter 2021, we signed adoption paperwork and (mostly) handed control over to God's plan. We were still anxious to know what our future held, but we reached a level of comfort with each other that could only have come from God. He was blessing us abundantly if we took time to look for it.
That Christmas, we adopted a baby. She didn't come at Easter because she wasn't our salvation; she wasn't what redeemed our story. Becoming a mom didn't rightly order my life. I now have new crosses, new temptations, new idols. I invite you to reflect with me on the next 6 weeks, a season known to the Orthodox community as "bright sadness". Infertility is undoubtedly sadness. Where in your life can it be bright as well?
As you enter this Lenten season, let’s reflect…
What are you putting above Jesus in your life?
Can you take a step back today and see all the ways God has blessed you and your family?
Can you see how He is working in you and through you at this very moment? I promise you, I will be doing the same today.